Over 8.2 million people took a dip in the holy waters of Sangam as the most auspicious ‘Shahi Snan’ of Maha Kumbh got underway on the day of Makar Sankranti on Monday 14 January. The bathing of the sadhus of 13 main akharas began at 5 am and got over at 4.15 pm, during which more than three lakh sadhus, saints and pilgrims took a holy dip at the Sangam.
After the conclusion of the bathing on the first day of the Kumbh, the Divisional Commissioner of Allahabad Devesh Chaturvedi said in media briefing that by 4 pm, more than 8.2 million people had taken a dip in the Sangam while till Tuesday morning the numbers will cross 10 million as expected. Around half a million of pilgrims every hour had bathed in the Sangam today, he said.
“The bathing was totally peaceful and not a single incident of drowning or any untoward incident was reported from anywhere in the vicinity of the 60 kilometer radius of the Mela,” Chaturvedi claimed. The commissioner however admitted that around 1,500 people including women and children went missing during the bathing today. The mela administration has set up five camps for registering such complaints and searching the missing persons and handing over to their respective families. “For the first time, the missing persons spoke in their mother tongue through the public address system to inform their near and dear ones about their locations,’’ Chaturvedi said.
In view of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) advisory of possibility of terrorist attack Commandos of the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and Central forces were deployed near the ghats. Around 30,000 security personnel have been deployed in the Kumbh Mela area to regulate the rush of the pilgrims and regulate the traffic. The administration had activated a one-way traffic for pedestrians in the area in view of heavy rush for the shahi snan. Entry of all vehicles had also been barred in the 60 km radius of the mela. Sniffer dogs, mine detection and bomb disposal squads were working round the clock. Besides this, around 80 close circuit cameras were installed at key points.
The next bathing day is January 27, the occasion of Paush Purnima but the next big and main shahi snan would be held on February 10, on the Mauni Amavasya, when around 30 million people are expected to take a dip in Sangam. The third Shahi snan would be held on February 15 on Basant Panchami. The 55-day-long Maha Kumbh will end on March 10 after Maha Shivratri.
The inaugural day of the Kumba mela was marked by the traditional Shahi Snan by the 13 Akharas (religious orders wherein Naga Sadhus – a martial order of ascetics, either naked or scantily clad, with matted hair and ash smeared bodies) marching to Sangam in processions with their leaders perched atop ornately decorated elephants, horses and chariots and musical bands in attendance in a unique blend of austerity and opulence.
Royal procession of sadhus, saints and mahamandaleshwars of the akharas began at around 5.15 am with the Juna akhara taking the lead followed by Mahanirvani, Atal, Niranjani, and Anand. Later the akharas of the Bairagis and the Udaseen bathed in Sangam to complete the Shahi Snan. The Naga Sanyasis, welding tridents, swords and spears, reached the Sangam – the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers – and completed their bathing rituals.
Pilgrims had to walk several kilometres to reach the bathing ghats at Sangam as the mela administration has banned the entry of the vehicles in the area. The district administration of Allahabad has also banned the plying of all categories of motor vehicles on all roads leading to the Mela area for the safety of the pilgrims.
For the pilgrims, a tented township spread in 20 million square meters has been set up. The tent township has been divided into 14 sectors by the mela administration. The mela administration, besides the security and traffic management, is responsible for providing the facilities of sanitation, electricity, drinking water, sewage and drainage, sanitation and health. Food grains and essential commodities are also being made available to the pilgrims from the scores of PDS shops set up by the administration.
Close to two lakh employees, including over 30,000 police personnel have been deployed in the Mela area. The UP government has incurred an estimated expenditure of Rs 1,200 crores on providing the different facilities in the mela area. The state government is also expected to earn huge revenue from the two-month-long Kumb mela, where the total turnout of the pilgrims is expected to be over 80 million.
According to a study of the ASSOCHAM (Associated chambers of commerce) UP government is likely to earn Rs 12,000 crore revenue with the influx of the pilgrims and tourism activities on account of Kumbh Mela. The study said the airlines, hotels and tour operators are likely to witness substantial boom in their economic activities and likely to contribute Rs 12,000 crore revenues in the state coffers.
It said that the Uttar Pradesh tourism, hospitals, railways and airports are likely to earn revenue of over Rs 1,500 crore during the Kumbh. Hotel industry will have 100 per cent occupancy rate during the Kumbh. The hotels in Allahabad have already hiked the tariff by over three times. The study also said that over one million foreign tourists are expected to visit India during the event.