The Ardh Kumbh Mela opened to a colourful start in Haridwar, with thousands of devotees taking part in the first ‘snan’ or holy dip in the Ganga on the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankranti on Thursday. The Har Ki Pauri – the famous ghaat on the banks on the Ganga in Haridwar – witnessed a rush of pilgrims from across the country, with devotees immersing themselves into the icy waters of the Ganga.
The Ardh Kumbh Mela takes place in Haridwar and Allahabad every six years. Attending it is considered to be highly auspicious and a dip in the holy waters of the Ganga is believed to absolve one’s sins.
“We are happy to have taken the holy dip on the first day of the (Ardh) Kumbh Mela. My mother believes it will open the doors of moksha (salvation) for her,” said Tribhuwan Pandey, a bank official who had come along with his ailing mother Kesari Devi from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
The police and other security forces were seen manning the ghaats, with metal detectors, sniffer dogs and tear gas on standby. Aerial drones kept an eye on the activities at the Har Ki Pauri, even as officials at a nearby watch tower were on guard.
Deputy mela officer Avdhesh Kumar Singh said that an estimated five lakh pilgrims had already arrived in the holy city. “The Kumbh Mela has been proceeding peacefully, with no untoward incident having been reported so far. We are keeping a close eye on developments,” he said.
However, a section of locals said that the numbers of pilgrims might have been affected slightly owing to “some confusion” over the precise date of Makar Sankranti. “There is some confusion this year over the date as some (Hindu) calendars claimed the festival would be observed on January 14, while others said January 15,” said Rohit Tiwari, a Haridwar-based astrologer.
Ardh Kumbh 2016: Tidbits
A group of men were found ‘looking’ for their living — literally. They stood in the icy waters of the Ganga with wooden sticks which had magnets attached at their base. By continuously wading through the knee-deep waters with the stick, these men emerged from the water with coins – tossed by pilgrims as offering to Ganga. “Kumbh is the time to strike a fortune. We get as much as Rs 700 to 800 per day,” said Sanjay Thapa.
Jojo, a five-year-old Border Security Force sniffer dog, became the centre of attraction for a large number of pilgrims. Many devotees were found clicking photos of him. The Labrador, however, was the consummate professional — despite his new-found fame, he went about his job, trying to smell the presence of possible explosive materials.
Time for selfie
The Ardh Kumbh is also playing host to a large number of selfie enthusiasts. A lot of visitors, especially the younger ones, were found busy clicking photos of themselves. “This one will be worth a lifetime,” said engineering graduate Sarthak Negi, who was found clicking a group-fie with his friends at Har Ki Pauri.
Hair we are
Considered an auspicious time for ‘pinddaan’ or offering prayers to one’s ancestors, the Ardh Kumbh Mela was also propitious for the barbers who dot the banks of the Ganga at Har Ki Pauri. A large number of pilgrims were found getting their hair, moustaches and beard shaved off – a mandatory ritual before carrying out the pinddaan. “On ordinary days, we have to look out for customers. But today, Kumbh has become a blessing for us,” said Dinesh Kumar, one of the barbers.
Drones for security
Air-borne drones, which have been put in place to oversee security at the Ardh Kumbh Mela, added to the curiosity of the pilgrims. As one of the drones took flight, wide-eyed devotees were seen looking at it with much inquisitiveness.
(Compiled by Neha Pant)