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“About 55 lakh people had taken the bath in the Ganges today,” chief mela officer Anand Bardhan said.
The city, abuzz with activities as devotees started thronging the ghats since late Thursday night, was in a festive mood as the akharas marched chanting slogans like ‘Bum bum bhole’, ‘Har har mahadev’ and bands played loud music.
The procession of the akharas, which witnessed thousands of Naga sadhus displaying their acrobatic and martial skills, added colour to the Kumbh Mela which started on January 14.
The procession, which marks the day when Lord Shiva married Parvati, saw the sadhus passing through the narrow lanes of the otherwise quite and calm city, atop their decorated vans amid reverberating music of the bands to which hundreds of their followers danced.
The procession was led by Gyan Das, president of the Akhara Association consisting of 13 orders. Following him were ‘Juna Akhara’ Nagas and the sants including some well-known ones like ‘Pilot Baba’ and ‘Soham Baba’.
A small group of foreigners, including men and women of varied age-groups, were also members of the Juna Akhada and they too participated in the royal bath.
The Shai Snan went on till 5.30 p.m., after which other devotees were allowed to take a dip in the river.
A thrilled Dabi later told reporters, “It’s just amazing… It appears the Maha Kumbh has transformed the holy city of Haridwar into a small world.”
Airing similar sentiments, Assam’s former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta told reporters, “Such an event immensely helps revive the traditional values that are fading away with the passage of time.”
Thousands of people lined up along the lanes while many were seen atop houses to have a glimpse of the procession. While some touched the streets as the sadhus passed them, others threw flowers at them.
Among the followers were many foreigners in saffron robes holding on to the flags, banners and silver ”chanvar” (holy poles).
– PTI & Agencies inputs
Indo-Asian News Service ||Haridwar, February 12, 2010|| Braving the dark of the pre-dawn hours, the chill in the air and the ice cold water of the Ganga, thousands of devotees ecstatically shouting “Bom Bom Bhole” started bathing in the holiest river of the Hindus on the occasion of Mahashivratri on Friday, one of the biggest days of the ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar.
According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati on Mahashivratri. It is one of the focal days of the Maha Kumbh Mela, the once-in-12-years festival that promises to become the world’s largest religious gathering this time.
The much-awaited and one of the most popular events during the Maha Kumbh – the first Shahi Snan (Royal Bath of sadhus) – will take place after 11 am amidst heavy security.
During the Shahi Snan, sadhus of various sects march along the banks of the Ganga, and then plunge into the waters – a symbol that they have dedicated themselves to the holy river. Of the 13 Akharas, according to Mela officials, seven will participate in Friday’s Shahi Snan.
With the Mela authorities not allowing lay devotees to bathe after 8 am, the pilgrims started on their holy dips soon after midnight.
“Devotees in large numbers preferred to take the holy dip just after midnight simply because they knew we have imposed restrictions on their bathing for the mega event of Shahi Snan,” Anand Vardhan, officer in charge of the Mela said.
“In view of the Shahi Snan, the regular devotees will be allowed to bathe along the ghats only till 8 am. Then the ghats would be cleaned and would be made ready for the Shahi Snan that will start at around 11 am and will witness participation of only sadhus, including the ash-smeared, bare-bodied Naga sadhus. It will continue till 4.30-5 pm. After 5 pm, the other devotees will be allowed to bathe in the holy river again,” he added.
Men, women and children, able and infirm, all went to the river in serpentine queues through the night to pray and bathe.
“Initially, taking into account my physical disabilities, my parents and even other relatives advised me not to go to the Maha Kumbh due to the heavy rush. But, when I told them I don’t want to miss the religious event that will come again only after 12 years, they were convinced and granted me permission,” Kumar, 32, a resident of Kankerbagh colony in Patna said.
Another devotee Prabal Sarkar, a resident of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, said: “Mahashivratri holds a special significance as it is believed that by taking the holy dip in the river, we can appease gods, particularly Lord Shiva.”
While the youth jumped into the river for the holy dip, women and the elderly sat on the stairs along the banks, where they poured water over themselves with the traditional copper vessels called lotas.
To hold the Shahi Snan successfully, a massive security cover has been thrown up, spread across 130 sq km spanning Haridwar, Dehradun, Pauri and Tehri Garhwal districts.
“Security forces would take positions at all strategic points and keep vigil on suspicious elements. It’s one of the world’s most important religious gatherings. We are not going to take any chance,” Deputy Inspector General (Kumbh Mela) Alok Sharma told IANS.
The Maha Kumbh Mela that began Jan 14 will end April 28 after the Baisakhi Shahi Snan 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.
Compilation : Upananda Brahmachari.
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Courtesy : PTI, IANS, Hindusthan Times, Anandabazar, ZeeNews, Bartaman, Indian Express, other Agencies.