AYODHYA: More than five lakh devotees took a holy dip in the Saryu river on Kartik Purnima on Tuesday, the first religious congregation in the temple town since the historic verdict in the Ayodhya case, even as security forces intensified vigil across the city.
People flocked to the ghats since early hours amid chants of 'Sita Ram' playing on loudspeakers in the streets while many devotees who came from neighbouring districts camped overnight near the river.
"I took the holy dip at 2 AM. I have been coming here every Kartik Purnima for the last 20 years. The feeling of taking a holy dip on this day is totally divine, that is why we come here. And, this time it is more special as the Supreme Court verdict has just paved the way for building a temple for our Ram Lalla," said 62-year-old Kolhai, a farmer who came from a village in Gorakhpur.
Satish Pandey, 55, a farmer, cycled all the way from Gonda to Ayodhya to take a holy dip in Saryu, despite many asking him not to go to the temple town.
"People in my village told me there is so much security in Ayodhya, movement has been restricted or regulated in many areas. But I had to come seeking blessings of 'Prabhu Shri Ram' on this auspicious occasion, and he's my ultimate protector so I had no fear," he said.
Settling a fractious issue that goes back more than a century, the Supreme Court in a historic verdict on Saturday backed the construction of a Ram temple by a trust at the disputed site in Ayodhya and ruled that an alternative five-acre plot must be found for a mosque in the Hindu holy town.
This being the first Kartik Purnima since the landmark judgement, local authorities had made all arrangements amid a high-security alert in the city.
Ayodhya District Magistrate Anuj Jha said by the evening over five lakh people took a holy dip on the auspicious occasion.
"People enjoyed the Kartik Snan amid festive mood. We had made all the arrangements in place and taken care of security too," he told PTI.
A posse of security personnel were deployed along the ghats, while regular check-posts set up since November 8 night in the streets remained in place alongside patrolling parties on roads.
The nearly 4-km stretch from the symbolic Ayodhya Dwar bordering Faizabad town to the main Ayodhya city still remained under tight watch with no public transport being allowed to go beyond that from the Faizabad side.
Even for private vehicles, hardly any four-wheelers could be seen beyond the gate while two-wheeler riders were allowed to go towards the Ayodhya side, only after proper checking of identity cards.
The movement inside most of the inner streets also remained restricted with intersections barricaded and police personnel as allowing only pedestrians to pass through.
Kartik Purnima or the night of the full moon of Kartik month of the Hindu calendar falls 15 days after Diwali, the night of Kartik Amavasya.
Devotees from neighbouring districts, including Barabanki, Sultanpur, Gonda and Bahraich, flock to Ayodhya every year on this festive season for a massive religious congregation on the banks of Saryu.
For devotees, arrangements were made at the river banks, the main ghats being Ram Ki Paidi, Naya Ghat and Guptar Ghat, where water level is sufficient, Deputy Director, Information, Ayodhya Division, Murlidhar Singh said.
The auspicious period for the holy dip began at 5:34 pm on Monday and ended at 6:42 pm on Tuesday, he said.
The senior official said, besides police force on a high alert in the city, units of paramilitary forces, home guards were also been deployed.
Asked about the festival falling within few days of the verdict in the Ayodhya case, Singh said the ghats are about 3 km away from the Ram Janmabhoomi.
"Security was lighter on ghats in view of the festival. After the holy dip on Tuesday evening, every security arrangement will now be further tightened on the ghats too," Singh earlier said.
Many devotees who visit Ayodhya religiously every year on Kartik Purnima and several locals felt that the crowd this year was much less than the previous year due to the recent verdict in the Ayodhya case.
The Ayodhya DM said many outstation people, who had come for Panch Kosi Yatra, finished the pilgrimage on November 8 but left the city thereafter as the verdict date was announced the same night.
"These people would otherwise stay till Kartik Purnima and leave only after the holy dip. So the volume of crowd may have felt less," Jha said.
Sohrat Sahni, 62, another devotee, who came with a group of villagers from Gorakhpur, said many people have kept out this year because of the recent verdict in the Ayodhya case and its possible repercussions.
Tara Wati, 38, a Gonda native, also said the volume of people coming for the holy dip seems to be less this time.
"Ram temple issue, the verdict on which has just come out is still weighing on the minds of the people. Many have not come fearing something untoward may happen," she argued.
Asked if she was afraid to visit this year, she said, "How can I feel afraid while going to 'Ram Nagri' (Ayodhya)", as she headed to Naya Ghat to take a holy dip.