Amid rising coronavirus cases nationwide, a sea of saffron-clad seers and ash-smeared Nagas converged at Har ki Pairi in Haridwar for a holy dip in the Ganga during the second shah snan of the Kumbh Mela on Monday.
Led by their 'mahamandaleshwaras', the sadhus from different akhadas took out ‘shobha yatras’ through the main thoroughfare of the pilgrimage city to gather at Brahma Kund, Hari ki Pairi for the shah snan -- or the royal bath -- on Somvati Amavasya.
Marching barefoot to their destination, the seers took a dip in the river as they were showered with flower petals from helicopters arranged by the Uttarakhand government.
Masks were not worn by a large proportion and social distancing appeared impossible in an event in which, according to the mela administration, over 17 lakh people had taken a dip in the river in the first few hours up to 10 am.
Mela Inspector General Sanjay Gunjyal said 100 per cent compliance with Covid-19 norms is not possible with such a large crowd of seers converging on the ghats, but efforts were on to ensure that everyone adheres to them.
While Har ki Pairi, considered the holiest of the ghats was reserved for the akhadas from 7 am onwards, common people took the dip at the other ghats of the Ganga, revered by millions as a goddess.
Seers from Niranjani Akhada led by their mahamandaleshwar Acharya Kailashanand Giri were the first at the ghat. Sadhus from Ananda Akhada also went to the river with them.
They were followed by the Joona Akhada seers.
Former King of Nepal Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah, on his maiden visit to Haridwar, was among the devotees who took a bath in the river.
It was the second shahi snan during the ongoing Kumbh Mela, which has been limited to just one month due to rising cases of coronavirus.
The last ‘royal bath' was conducted on the occasion of Mahashivratri on March 11. Har Ki Pairi resonated with the chants of Har Mahadev throughout the day as the akhadas descended on the ghat in batches.
The akhada of transgenders led by mahamandaleshwar Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi took the dip along with the Joona Akhada seers. They came to Har ki Pairi dancing to drum beats.
However, Acharya Lakshmi Narayan took ill and fainted soon after the ritual bath and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance.
Maha Nirvani Akhada seers led by its mahamandaleshwar Vishokanand Maharaj arrived at the ghat at the end of a procession. Before taking a dip themselves, they bathed an idol of the Sun god kept in a palanquin.
Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar said the shahi snan was being conducted smoothly throughout the ‘mela kshetra’ from Haridwar to Devprayag.
More than 20,000 police and paramilitary personnel kept an eye over the mela area spread over 600 hectares.
Photographs: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters, Danish Siddiqui/Reuters