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Ardh Kumbh: 1.5 crore pilgrims take holy dip
Sharat Pradhan in Allahabad | January 19, 2007 11:28 IST
Last Updated: January 19, 2007 13:03 IST
Nearly 1.5 crore Hindus took their holy dip at the Sangam -- confluence of the three sacred Indian rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the now invisible Saraswati -- on Friday, regarded as the 'most auspicious' of the six key bathing days during the ongoing 6-week-long Ardh Kumbh Mela in Allahabad.
By any standards, the crowd was far bigger than what the festival has witnessed ever since it began on January 3.
This was the third auspicious day and the second shahi snan (royal bath) that witnessed intense participation by the Naga sadhus, symbolising an age-old army of Hindu gods who battled devils demanding their share of the divine nectar, believed to have fallen at four places across India -- Allahabad being one to qualify as a 'Kumbh Mela' destination.
The last shahi snan was on January 15, when about 75 lakh people were said to have converged in Allahabad for the holy dip.
"As many as 1.5 crore were estimated to have taken their dip by noon," Allahabad Divisional Commissioner and Mela Nodal Head R N Tripathi told this scribe on Friday.
"Since the flow of mammoth crowds was on, we would not be surprised if the total number of pilgrims converging here would cross 2 crore," he added.
"Considering that Mauni Amavasya is regarded as the most auspicious of the six shahi bathing days of the festival, the crowd was not unexpected, even as it had already crossed our estimate," he maintained.
To avoid any kind of crowding in the bathing area, Tripathi, personally got on to the public address system to call out to the bathers not to offer prayers while bathing. "You can come for your prayers tomorrow or later, but please do not offer prayers today as it would mean occupying the bathing area longer -- that could even lead to a stampede," he went about repeatedly issuing appeals after announcing who he was.
Well geared up for the occasion, the administration had taken adequate measures to meet Friday's enhanced security needs.
However, unmindful of security concerns, pollution levels, or the biting chill, millions of men, women and children of all ages could be seen heading for their most sought after destination -- the Sangam -- with the firm belief that a dip at the confluence would not only wash away their sins, but also pave their path to salvation.
"Prayag (the traditional name of Allahabad) is God's land and today when the heavens are showering divine nectar at Sangam, how can any harm befall any devotee who comes here shedding all fears, pleasures and comforts," remarked Vidyanand Giri, the saffron clad sadhu, who is also secretary of the oldest and largest of the nine officially recognised Hindu akharas (mythological camps of God's warriors).
Of the 20,000 saints associated with this akhara, there were over 2,000 Naga sadhus, who jumped and danced with joy as they descended into the chilling waters. And for them too, everything else becomes secondary when it comes to bathing on a sacred day like this one.
"Yes, the water may look polluted and cold, but once you are in it, you feel purified and the chill vanishes," observed Jasraj Puri, a 35-year old Australian from Sydney, who gave up worldy pleasures to become an integral part of the equally revered Nirvani akhara 10 years ago.
The saffron-clad Australian, who gave up his original English name once he chose to step into the new world, said, "It is an intense bliss that the dip gives you," while going on to add, "and let me tell you, the water here is cleaner than what you get in New Delhi."
Forty-five year old British woman, re-christened Ganga, who is also equally entrenched in the ascetic life at the akhara said, "The Ganga river is spiritually so pure that any visible dirt becomes immaterial and irrelevant."
For the ordinary pilgrim, the dip was the fulfillment of a long cherished desire. While the bathing began from midnight itself, there were hundreds of thousands sprawled across the sandy banks under the open skies, waiting for the first rays of the sun to take their plunge.
"The most auspicious time starts with the break of dawn; we do not mind waiting the night here, it will be worthwhile," confessed Kalawati, a 55-year-old woman who had trooped in along with a band of 20 other older women, all with barely a thin shawl for winter covering. They squatted on the cold sands, chanting hymns to keep them warm and awake.
For 71-year-old Awadhesh Singh, a farmer from Ballia (in the east corner of UP), "The dip was like God's blessings."
Singh had waited the entire night long with his joint family of about 17 persons under the open skies, with icy winds blowing across the sandy expanse along the rivers.
Ram Sahai Chaudhary, a 55-year-old government employee from Jabalpur in the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh state, who arrived along with his family of four, told this scribe as he emerged out of the water after the dip, "It is a different feeling when you step into the water, you do feel cold, but once you are in, you forget about the chill and feel fresh and blessed."
The list of such devotees, whose sublime faith propels them into undertaking tedious journeys, including 10-20 km treks to what is regarded as the biggest human congregation on earth, is endless.