A misty and relatively chilly Sunday morning greeted devotees and ascetics as over three crore 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 and was increasing steadily. There were reports of one person dying and several being injured due to stampede but this could not be ascertained till late Sunday, Mr. Chaturvedi said. The administration has said that the cause of the death would be known only after the post-mortem report.
The Mauni Amavasya is considered the most auspicious day for bathing due to a special celestial configuration and has traditionally attracted the largest crowds at the grand mela, held here every 12 years. The day marked the second and the biggest Shahi Snan (royal bath) of this event with the 13 akharas taking to the Sangam.
With their leaders and Mahamandaleshwars atop lavishly decorated makeshift chariots, the 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 kicked off at 5:15 pm 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 the snan. A chain of 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), while the background resonated with the constant clatter of loudspeakers directing lost persons to the Bhoole Bhatke Shivirs (lost and found camps). The Shahi Snan concluded at 5.45 pm.
Elaborate security arrangements, which were on Sunday supplemented by the female Rapid Action Force personnel, were in place to regulate the huge rush. However, amid various concerns over excess VIP movement within the mela, Mr. Chaturvedi said the concerned persons had been notified to be more considerate. The state has urged all VIPs to avoid visiting the mela on peak days for security reasons.
The city was teeming with lakhs of devotees till late on Sunday as vehicular movement was restricted on key road, including the Grand Trunk Road. All three tiers of parking were exhausted Mr. Chaturvedi told journalists.
A number of special trains and hundreds of private and public buses, which have been plying just for this occasion, were also deliberately delayed to regulate the flow of visitors, the administration said.
Meanwhile, two fire incidents were reported in the mela, in sector 12 and 5, but there was no major loss of property or any injuries.
The 55-day Mela that kicked off on January 14 with the Makar Sankranti Shahi Snan is estimated to draw 100 million devotees. The third and final Shahi Snan is on Basant Panchami (February 15).
The Mela will conclude on March 10 with Mahashivratri.