Mauni Amavasya attracts massive crowds; Day marks second and biggest Shahi Snan of mela

A misty and relatively chilly Sunday morning greeted over three crore devotees and ascetics who had swarmed the ghats of the Sangam here for a holy dip on the occasion of Mauni Amavasya. This was the biggest bathing day at the ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela and probably the largest human gathering on a single day.

Divisional Commissioner Devesh Chaturvedi said the official figure of devotees coming in had crossed three crore. Mauni Amavasya has traditionally attracted the largest crowds at the mela, held here every 12 years. The day marked the second and the biggest Shahi Snan (royal bath) of this event, with 13 akharas taking to the Sangam.

With their leaders and Mahamandaleshwars atop lavishly decorated chariots, ash-smeared nude Naga Sadhus — chanting Har Har Gange — marched into the waters of the Sangam. The procession was to the accompaniment of musical bands, blowing of conch shells and beating of drums.

The “snan” began at 5.15 a.m. with the Shaivaite Maha Nirvani and Atal akharas marching in procession towards the Sangam ghat, which is traditionally reserved for the akharas. They were followed by the Niranjani, Anand, Juna, Awahan and Agni Akharas. The Vairagi akharas came in next with the Nirmohi, Digambar Ani and Nirvani Ani akharas following suit.

They were followed by the two Udasin akharas — the Naya Udasin Panchayati and the Bada Udasin Panchayati akharas — and the Nirmala akhara, which brought to a close the “snan.” The akharas were allotted 30 minutes to 1 hour each for bathing. Paramilitary forces escorted the akharas to the ghats.

In the past, inter-akhara rivalries, in particular their disagreement over the sequence of bathing, led to violent clashes. Therefore, they maintain a strict order of procession.

As the day progressed, a sea of men, women and children converged on the 22 ghats, with a total length of 18,000 feet and spread across the extensive 4,000 acres city of tents. Most of the mela is set up on the bed of the Ganga.

The mela wore a festive look with devotees performing rituals, including Gau Daan (giving away the cow). The Shahi Snan concluded at 5.45 p.m.