AYODHYA: Sixty-five-year-old Gorakhpur native Sohrat Sahni has been visiting Ayodhya every Kartik Purnima for the last 20 years to take a holy dip, but this time, he feels the occasion "doesn't feel like a typical mela".
"The night before the holy dip people from neighbouring districts would come in hordes, jostling for space in the streets. There would be melas all around, but not this year," he said.
Sahni, who came with a group of villagers from Gorakhpur, feels many people have kept out this year because of the recent verdict in Ayodhya case and its possible repercussions.
"The Ram Mandir issue has always been a troubling one, and after the Supreme Court verdict in favour of a temple at the disputed site, many devotees may have felt apprehensive to visit Ayodhya," said 62-year-old Kolhai, a farmer from a village in Gorakhpur, who accompanied Sahni.
He agreed with Sahni that the Kartik Purnima crowd that has assembled till Monday night in Ayodhya is "much less" than what he had seen in previous years.
"I have been coming for the holy dip for over 20 years now. The streets and ghats would be flooded with devotees, but look at the sparse crowd at Ram ki Paidi," he said.
Senior officials of the local administration, however, said, a few lakhs of devotees are expected to converge here on Tuesday for a holy dip.
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 Amawasya.
This year it falls on November 12.
Devotees from neighbouring district, including Barabanki, Sultanpur, Gonda and Bahraich flock to Ayodhya on the eve of the festive season for a massive religious congregation on the banks of Saryu.
Tara Wati, 38, a Gonda native, 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)".
"I have been coming regularly to take a holy dip on Kartik Purnima. And, though the issue of temple may be there, there are enough security forces deployed in the city and on the ghats. I feel safe in Lord Ram's Ayodhya," said Tara, who has already performed the arduous 14 Kosi Yatra.
Ram Nath, a mendicant Sadhu from Ayodhya, also said the crowd has gone less because of the issue, as he rested beneath in a tree at Ram ki Paidi, waiting to take a holy dip in the early hours of Tuesday.
Satish Pandey, 55, a farmer, cycled all the way from Gonda to Ayodhya to arrive on the eve of Kartik Purnima, 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 Ram' on this auspicious occasion", he said.