Lakhs of devotees including sadhus and ascetics converged on the Sangam for a holy dip as the greatest human show on earth, the Maha Kumbh Mela, kicked off on Monday with Makar Sankranti. The mega event is held here every 12 years.
Divisional Commissioner Devesh Chaturvedi put the official count of pilgrims till 4 p.m. at 82 lakh. The main attraction of the day, the first of the Shahi Snans (royal baths), began at 5.15 a.m. The martial and nude Naga sadhus — armed with maces, axes and swords — marched on to the icy waters of the Sangam, followed by their leaders and Mahamandaleshwars, who were atop gold and silver-mounted chariots, and ornately decorated horses and elephants.
The procession was to the accompaniment of musical bands, blowing of conch shells and beating of drums.
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 per tradition, the Maha Nirvani Akhara of the Shaivite order was the first to march towards the Sangam, followed by other Akharas of the Shaivite and Vaishnavite sects.
The Snans, which went on under the watchful eyes of security personnel — some of whom were mounted on Akbar’s Fort on the Yamuna — concluded at 4.45 p.m.
However, the Mela administration expects that bathing by ordinary devotees will continue till dawn on Tuesday. For the first time, the bathing rituals were played on huge LED screens.
The 55-day Mela is estimated to draw 100 million devotees.
No untoward incident was reported on the first day. Elaborate arrangements have been put in place to thwart any terror attack and avert drowning, burning or stampede.
However, over 1,500 people were reported to have been lost and found on day one. The city remained a fortress for most of the day, with heavy deployment of forces and restricted entry of vehicles. Pilgrims made most of their journey on foot.
But some sections described the heavy barricading of roads as “unwarranted.”
Meanwhile, the four Sankaracharyas, the high seers of the order of Adi Sankaracharya, have decided to boycott the Mela over an unresolved land dispute with the administration.
The remaining Shahi Snans will be held on February 10 (Mauni Amavasya) and February 15 (Basant Panchami). The Mela will conclude on March 10 with Mahashivratri.