44-day Magh Mela begins in Prayagraj: Pilgrims brave cold, fog to take dip at Sangam on Paush Purnima

By, Prayagraj
Jan 06, 2023 10:54 PM IST

All through the day, the ghats in Prayagraj remained abuzz with pilgrims taking the dip and performing various rituals on the first day of the Magh Mela

Braving cold winds and fog, a large group of pilgrims waded in to the waist-deep chilly waters of the Sangam around 6am on the occasion of Paush Purnima, marking the start of the 44-day annual religious fair Magh Mela on Friday. With the temperature at 4.3 degrees Celsius, 3.7 degrees below normal, the group began the ritual bathing and offering prayers as others joined them.

Pilgrims at the Magh Mela in Prayagraj on Friday. (ANIL K MAURYA/HT)
Pilgrims at the Magh Mela in Prayagraj on Friday. (ANIL K MAURYA/HT)

Soon, all 14 temporary bathing ghats set up for the occasion in Prayagraj were witnessing similar scenes as pilgrims arrived from cities, small towns and villages across states to follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents in a tradition that for decades has made the Magh Mela the largest annual religious gathering of its kind in the country.

According to Magh Mela officials, by 9am the count of pilgrims taking the dip had crossed 1 lakh, reaching over 2 lakh by 10am and crossing 3.25 lakh by 2pm. By 6pm, around 5.10 lakh people had taken the dip despite the heavy cloud cover and chilly winds cutting across the bathing ghats.

As a precaution against Covid-19 in view of the rise in cases in some countries, besides repeated appeals of wearing facemasks and maintaining social distancing, officials have put in place random screening of pilgrims at all 18 entry points of the mela area and deployed 110 surveillance teams to visit camps and identify potential infected visitors.

Devotees had started arriving in large numbers from Wednesday onwards and continued to come all through the day. Tight security measures were put in place to ensuring smooth conduct of the bathing.

“The bathing took place smoothly with no untoward incident being reported during the day,” said Magh Mela adhikari (officer) Arvind Kumar Chauhan.

In view of the rush of devotees, traffic diversions were put in place at all the entry points of Prayagraj district.

Despite efforts and repeated appeals to the pilgrims to observe social distancing and wear facemasks to prevent the spread of Covid-19, many visitors were seen violating the set norms. However, the less than expected rush of pilgrims this time eased the situation somewhat. The usual scene of pilgrims taking the dip shoulder-to-shoulder at the bathing ghats was not commonly visible.

However, all through the day, the ghats in Prayagraj remained abuzz with pilgrims taking the dip and performing various rituals.

Paush Purnima refers to the full moon of the “Shukla Paksha” in the month of Pausha, as per the Hindu calendar. It is a significant day for Hindus and witnesses fasting, worshipping and conducting the Satyanarayan Katha. The faithful believe that bathing in holy water, donating to the poor and offering “prasada” to Sun god on the Paush Purnima rids one of all sins and guides them towards the path of salvation.

Paush Purnima is the first important bathing festival of the Magh Mela which will end with Maha Shivratri snan (bathing) on February 18.

At the camps, the pilgrims and the saints performed special rituals to celebrate Paush Purnima.

Announcements for following Covid-19 protocols dominated the sounds of bhajan and kirtans (religious songs). At the 18 entry points, pilgrims were allowed in only after random thermal scanning.

Prayagraj divisional commissioner Vijay Vishwas Pant, district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Khatri and Mela adhikari Arvind Kumar Chauhan, additional director general of police (Prayagraj zone) Bhanu Bhaskar, Prayagraj commissioner of police Ramit Sharma, senior superintendent of police (Mela) Rajiv Narayan Mishra and SP (Mela) Aditya Shukla were seen personally issuing appeals to pilgrims to vacate ghats immediately after taking the dip to prevent crowding and wear facemasks.

Although the auspicious timing (muhurat) for the bathing commenced in the wee hours of Friday, people started taking the dip only around sunrise.

“The auspicious timing for the bathing on Paush Purnima started at 1.30am on Friday and lasts till 3.13am on Saturday. As a result, pilgrims and saints were able to take the holy dip and perform all religious rituals like fasting and prayers all through the day from sunrise to sunset on Friday,” said Pt Diwakar Tripathi Purvanchali, director of Utthan Jyotish Sansthan, Prayagraj.

Hundreds of pilgrims from Deoria, Ballia, Jaunpur, Sitapur, Ayodhya and other districts sang devotional songs to the accompaniment of musical instruments in the camps after midnight.

The first bathing of Magh Mela-2023 also marked commencement of the month-long Kalpwas in the mela area. Nearly 50,000 Kalpwasis began their month-long rigorous schedule of meditation and attending religious discourses.

Besides Uttar Pradesh, devotees from other states, including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Chhattisgarh, are camping in the Magh Mela area for the month-long religious practice.


    K Sandeep Kumar is a Special Correspondent of Hindustan Times heading the Allahabad Bureau. He has spent over 16 years reporting extensively in Uttar Pradesh, especially Allahabad and Lucknow. He covers politics, science and technology, higher education, medical and health and defence matters. He also writes on development issues.

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