LUCKNOW: Much hyped and awaited 50-day Kumbh Mela commenced to a roaring start as auspicious Makarsankranti dawned upon the sangam, the confluence of holy Ganga, Yamuna and mythological Saraswati, and 1.25 crore devotees, including sadhus, seers, religious leaders and common public took a holy dip amid chants of 'Har Har Gange' during the first 'shahi snan' in Prayagraj on Tuesday.
As per the estimation of Mela authorities, the number of devotees, having taken a holy dip at Sangam in Prayagraj on January 14 and 15, touched two crore mark, till the dusk on Tuesday with people still moving towards the bathing ghats.
A holy dip at Sangam is believed to lead the devotees towards the atonement of their sins and it frees a person from the cycle of death and birth. The Ardh Kumbh, which has been renamed as Kumbh this time, falls every six years. This time, this largest congregation of humanity on earth is likely to witness nearly 15 crore people thronging it from across the globe in the next 50 days.
The morning at Sangam on Tuesday came alive as early as 4 am with temperatures keeping around five degrees and a huge rush of devotees in groups and processions moving towards banks of the confluence presenting nothing short of a visual and spiritual delight to all those who became a testimony to the first shahi snan.
Huge processions of all 13 akharas (orders), taking part in the Kumbh, were the first ones to reach the confluence eight from early morning one by one as per the time allocated to them for shahi snan. Besides, lakhs of other devotees also thronged the Sangam in large numbers to take the holy dip on Makarsankranti marking the planetary transition of Sun.
The mystique of morning blended with devotion presented a unique experience to imbibe in as sadhus of 13 akharas -- seven Shaiv, three Vishnava, two udasin and one Sikh -- started moving, marching, dancing and singing one by one towards the bathing ghats for the shahi snan amid the chanting of hymns and shlokas.
The order of bathing for different akharas is pre-determined. It commenced with Mahanrivani and Atal Akhara, Niranjani with Ananada Akahra and Juna with Avahana and Agni akharas.
They are followed by Nirvani, Digmabar, Nirmohi, baga Udasin, naya Udasin and Sikh akhara. Cynosure of the day was the procession of Naga sadhus, the amrtial order of seers who move naked with ash smeared all over.
The rest five shahi snans will take place on January 21 (Paush Porrima), February 4 (Mauni Amavasya), February 10 (Basant Panchami), February 19 (Maghi Poornima), March 4 (Mahashivratri). The vast Kumbh Mela ground spreads over 3,600 hectares and has been turned into a tent city.
Around a crore, small tarpaulin tents - green, blue and saffron in colour - have been set up on the Kumbh Mela ground. Over 1.22 lakh makeshift toilets have been set-up and over 25,000 sweepers deployed round the clock to keep the area clean.
"The magnitude of this year's Kumbh has gone up several notches. Besides the Mela area going up from 1,400 hectares to 3,600 hectare, the budget has gone up to Rs 4,300 crore from last time's Rs 1,200 crore," said a senior official of religious affairs department.
"The vast Kumbh area will be illuminated with 40,000 LED lights," he said.
Moreover, unprecedented security arrangements have been put in place to keep the mela incident free with modern integrated command-and-control centre has been set up for 24-hour monitoring through 1,200 CCTV cameras.
The whole region has been demarcated into nine zones and 20 sectors with the deployment of over 20,000 police personnel, 6,000 home guards, 40 police stations, 58 outposts, 40 fire stations, 80 companies of central force and 20 companies of PAC.
With a view to counter any terrorist activity, Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) commandoes, anti-sabotage commandoes with snipers, bomb disposal units, sniffer dog squads and intelligence units have also been pressed into service.