The Kumbh Mela began at 11.51 am at Nasik on Wednesday, amidst a total boycott of the opening Dhwajarohan (flag hoisting) ceremony by sadhus and mahants from various akhadas.
Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi and Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde opened the 13-month long celebrations of Kumbh Parva by jointly hoisting a flag at Ramkund on the banks of Godavari river.
The sadhus are up in arms against the Union Government following the Vajpayee cabinet's issuance of an ordinance to take over land and property owned by the akhadas and temples across the country.
The dissent is so high that hundreds of angry sadhus blocked the motorcade of Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and Union Minister of State for Shipping Dilip Gandhi from entering the holy site of Triyambak, a few kilometers from Nasik.
The sadhus at Triyambak, mostly Shaivites, grilled Bhujbal and Gandhi on the ordinance and allotment of funds for the Simhastha Kumbh Mela.
The situation got so bitter that moments after hoisting the flag, Manohar Joshi had to make them an offer that he would play a mediator between the angry sadhus and the Union government.
"I offer to mediate between the sadhus and Union Minister Jagmohan to resolve the issue. I appeal to the sadhus to refrain from the boycott and join the holy celebrations," said Joshi.
The Speaker's words, however, were in vain as hardly any sadhu turned up at the venue.
(Another reason for the Sadhus' absence was that the Shahi Snaan(Royal Bath of Sadhus) is scheduled as late as August 12 and later dates.)
The Sadhus are applying pressure tactics to get the ordinance revoked by the Union Government, according to a member of the Kumbh organising committee, who wished to remain anonymous.
Later in the day, when Bhujbal and Gandhi went to hoist the flag at Triyambak, the sadhus prevented the entire group of politicians from joining the celebrations.
The sadhus at Triyambak were angry that the State government had accorded step-motherly treatment to the celebrations at Triyambak by allotting them less funds than at Nasik.
A heated argument between the sadhus and the Bhujbal-Gandhi duo resulted in a chaotic situation. Both the politicians had to give the sadhus a patient hearing and assure them of quick action at the government level.
The Kumbh Mela is one of the holiest for the believers. The celebrations will last 13 months. The Kumbh takes place only once in 12 years.
It is believed that a bath in the waters of the Godavari at Nashik and Triyambak wash devotees of all sins. It is also believed that the final rites of the dead, if performed on the banks of the Godavari during the Kumbh, results in moksha (salvation) of the soul.