Sadhus astride elephants, horses at Maha Kumbh

The royal procession of Naga sadhus and other ascetics at the Maha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, was a grand affair today.

HARIDWAR: Some sat on gold and silver thrones balanced majestically atop elephants, some stood tall on horse-driven chariots, and yet others walked to din of drums, bells and conches. Peshwai, the royal procession of Naga sadhus and other ascetics at the Maha Kumbh Mela here, was a grand affair Saturday.

The Peshwai marks the arrival of the members of an akhara, or sect of sadhus, at the Maha Kumbh Mela venue. The procession befitting kings started from the Pandeywala area in Haridwar in the afternoon.

Thousands of members of the Juna Akhara, including ash-smeared Naga sadhus who were bare-bodied and others who were clad in saffron robes, led the procession. They were accompanied by sadhus of the Agni Akhara.

"The royal processions of the akharas are regarded as landmark events at the Maha Kumbh, which takes place every 12 years," Giriraj Kumar, member of the Juna sect, told reporters.

"In a way, the royal procession carried out by a particular akhara marks the arrival of the members of that akhara at the Maha Kumbh Mela area," he added.

Eleven other akharas will take out their processions in the coming days.

The air was filled with the neighing of horses, trumpeting of elephants, the ecstatic shouts of Naga sadhus and music bands as the procession began to move.

A large number of pilgrims queued on both sides of the road to have a glimpse of the procession. They jostled to seek the blessings of the ascetics, especially the Naga sadhus, by coming closer and touching their feet.

It appeared as if the gods were showering flowers on the procession - though it was the devotees who threw rose petals and marigold flowers on the ascetics.

As many as five elephants, eight horses, one camel, eight band troupes, 20 cars and trolley-tractors were deployed for the procession that covered nearly 20 km before coming to at halt at Haridwar's cantonment area.

"The Peshwai royal procession is sometimes confused for the Shahi Snan or royal bathe. But actually the Peshwai has nothing to do with bathing," Anand Vardhan, officer in charge of the Mela, told IANS.

There was heavy security cover on the route of the procession.

"Nearly 400 security personnel, including sleuths of the Local Intelligence Unit (LIU), two battalions of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), one of the Rapid Action Force have been pressed into service," a senior police officer told IANS.

A total of 9,000 security personnel have been deployed for today's Magh Purnima bath in the ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela. The Maha Kumbh comes around once every 12 years.

The Maha Kumbh Mela that began Jan 14 will end April 28 after the Baisakhi Shahi Snan - one of the most important bathing dates April 14.

According to Hindu mythology, Haridwar is one of the four places where a drop of the nectar of immortality or 'amrit' fell from the pitcher or 'kumbh' when Garuda, the divine bird of Lord Vishnu, was spiriting it away from the demons after a pitched battle.

Since then, Haridwar, along with Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain - the other three places - have been celebrating the Kumbh Mela.


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