KOLKATA: Over half a million pilgrims are expected to take the holy dip in the Ganga where it flows out into the Bay of Bengal on the occasion of Makar Sankranti on Sunday at the annual Gangasagar Fair, with the West Bengal government and other agencies making elaborate arrangements to ensure peace and safety of the devotees.
District Magistrate Y Ratnakar Rao meanwhile said four pilgrims, who had come for the holy dip, died due to severe cold in the Sagar island.
About 150 km from Kolkata in South 24 Parganas district, the Gangasagar island is considered auspicious by the Hindus, who gather here on Makar Sankranti, for a holy dip and to pray by offering coconuts at the Kapil Muni temple.
The devout believe that a single dip in the sacred water washes off sins of one's lifetime.
"We are expecting over five lakh devotees this time. We have taken all measures to ensure peace and full safety of the people," a district official said.
A number of senior ministers of the state government have been camping in the area, while sniffer dogs were busy checking the beach at Sagar, while a large number of police personnel are on duty.
With the gathering of pilgrims increasing every passing moment, the fair grounds looked splendid in a riot of colours, with people speaking in a great variety of languages and wearing different attire.
The monks and ascetics were seen performing 'havan' and other Hindu rituals, while a number of religious organisations brought out rallies.
The Indian Coast Guard has deployed a host of assets, with its Haldia-based hovercraft tasked to carry out 'Search and Rescue' (SAR) operations as well as to provide security cover along the riverine route.
A life-saving team comprising divers and medical personnel has been placed at a nearby location, while fast patrol vessels and interceptor boats are maintaining vigil.
Dornier Do-228 aircraft have also been deployed to provide long range aerial surveillance and SAR cover for this festival.