“In my search for a deep, rich culture I found three alternatives: Egypt, China and India. Egypt was facing the end of Pan-Arabism; China was bearing the student revolution. But India, it was magnificent! Its centuries old tradition was intact. It was proof of sustainability.”
It was in 1969, when the blue-eyed American yogi, Baba Rampuri, first arrived in India.
He thereafter became the first foreigner to be initiated into India’s most ancient order of yogis and shamans, the militant and nude Naga Babas — known for their quick temper and dreadlocks.
In the wee hours of Monday, his Juna akhara — along with 13 other sects — will march into the icy waters of the Sangam to perform the first of the shahi snans (royal baths). With this will commence the largest human show on earth — the Maha Kumbh Mela, held here every 12 years.
The mega event, estimated to draw around 100 million visitors, including 60,000 foreigners, kicks off with the Makar Sankranti festival.
The Mela administration expects around 1.1 crore pilgrims to bathe on this day.
City of tents
The site for the Mela, the Kumbh Nagri — a city of tents roughly the area of 3,000 football fields — has come together after months of major and minor constructions, tipping Rs. 2,000 crore.
The 55-day Mela will conclude on March 10 with the Maha Shivratri festival.
ADG (Law and Order) Arun Kumar said anti-sabotage squads and the ATS would be deployed at the ghats.
However, the preparations for the first day have been described as “testing waters” for the biggest bathing day of Mauni Amavasya (February 10), estimated to draw almost four crore pilgrims.
Deep water barricading will also be done along the three-km stretch of the ghats, said Mela District Magistrate Mani Prasad Mishra.
Meahwhile, Allahabad City has been converted into a fortress, with restricted vehicle entry and heavy deployment of security forces.