About one million pilgrims took the holy dip on Thursday on the opening day of the three-month-long Kumbh Mela at Haridwar in Uttarakhand.
“The number of pilgrims touched 10 lakh by this afternoon,” confirmed Anand Vardhan, in charge of the mela arrangements. He, however, told mediapersons that the one-million figure was based on estimates.
Cold wave conditions and the cloud cover over Haridwar all through Wednesday failed to dampen the spirits of pilgrims.
The popular belief is that a bath in the Ganga on Makar Sankranti day – a holy day according to Hindu scriptures when the sun enters Makar rashi (Capricorn) – and on one of the other prescribed days during the once-in-12-years Kumbh washes away all sins. But on Thursday, the sun shone brightly.
The Makar Sankranti also marks the beginning of the end of winter. This is the first of the 11 auspicious days during Kumbh ending April 28. The second important dip will be on Friday during the Mauni Amavasya.
“The nice weather has brought cheers on the faces of pilgrims and the administration,” Vardhan said, adding that elaborate security arrangements were in place to welcome 50 million to 60 million pilgrims.
Religious fervour enveloped the temple town as loud chants of Har-Har Mahadev (hail Lord Shiva) rent the air with the arrival of pilgrims from all over the country and abroad for the opening day of the mela.
For Omkar Singh, 35, a farmer who has come from Doda in Jammu and Kashmir, “It’s like a dream come true.”
Said Inder Bahadur Deupa from a village in Nepal, which is about 500 km from Haridwar, “At least one member from every house comes to Kumbh.”
Alms and the pilgrim
Sensing pecuniary gains out of pilgrims’ divine grace, alms-seekers have come in droves from Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. For instance, Dataram, a labourer from UP, stationed his wife and children at strategic locations, while Kurmi Devi has come all the way from Bihar's Bhagalpur.
A sadhu (saint) from a prominent akhara (cloister) in Madhya Pradesh, said, “Cannabis is in high demand as sadhus are arriving in large numbers and we have to provide prasad (religious offering) to them.”