With many firsts, Magh Mela set to kick-start on January 6
Country’s biggest annual religious congregation on Sangam banks being held as a mini-replica of Mahakumbh 2025; UP govt racing against time to make arrangements for over seven crore pilgrims
PRAYAGRAJ It’s grey, foggy and cold on the banks of the Sangam in Prayagraj and the mercury is expected to dip further by January 6 when devotees converging here for the country’s biggest annual religious congregation – Magh Mela - will shed their woolens to take a holy dip in the waters at the Triveni Sangam — the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.
The U.P. government is racing against time to make arrangements for over seven crore pilgrims who would bathe at the Sangam during the 44-day Magh Mela-2023. The Mela is one of the greatest annual religious affairs for Hindus attracting men and women from across the country besides seers.
Hindu mythology considers the origin of the Magh Mela to be the beginning of the Universe. An important occasion, the Magh Mela is held every year on the banks of Triveni Sangam and finds mention even in the Hindu epic Mahabharat, major Puranas and ancient Hindu texts about a wide range of topics, particularly about legends and other traditional lore.
The religious basis for the Magh Mela is the belief that pilgrimage is a means for prāyaścitta (atonement, penance) for past mistakes. The effort cleanses people of sins and that bathing in holy rivers at these festivals is a means to liberation from the cycle of rebirths (samsara).
“The Magh Mela will kick-start with the fair’s first bathing festival of Paush Purnima on January 6,” said Pt Diwakar Tripathi Purvanchali, director of Utthan Jyotish Sansthan, Prayagraj.
The 44-day fair on the banks of the Sangam is being held keeping in mind the vision of the upcoming Mahakumbh-2025 attracting tourists from all over the world.
Being organised at a budget of ₹78 crore, the annual fair will witness a tent city with five pontoon bridges interlinking it, have 1000 km of metal chequered plate roads and 5,000 police and security personnel guarding it.
Apart from making arrangements grander than ever before, the administration this time has added a few elements to the mela. Leading these efforts is chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who chaired a meeting in Lucknow to oversee Mela preparations on November 12, 2022 and then visited Prayagarj on November 24 to review preparations for Magh Mela and Mahakumbh-2025.
Promising a truly grand Mahakumbh-2025, the CM said if Prayagraj was improved in a comprehensive manner, it would be transformed into a “New Prayagraj” for Mahakumbh-2025, starting with Magh Mela-2023. “I have come here along with ministers and government officials to discuss as to exactly how we can achieve this in a planned manner,” he had added. Since then, many ministers and deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya too have held review meetings in Sangam city in this regard.
Learning from the cleanliness system implemented in Kumbh-2019 here, this time a comprehensive plan has been made to keep the entire Mela area clean.
Magh Mela officer and CEO of Prayagraj Mela Authority, Arvind Singh Chauhan, said the fair would be kept open defecation free (ODF) and plastic free.
Sanitation in-charge of Magh Mela, Dr Anand Singh, said 17,400 toilets are being installed in the Mela area to keep the venue ODF.
“As many as 1,400 fibre-reinforced plastic toilets will be installed here. Apart from this, 10,000 tent toilets and 3,000 kanat toilets will also be installed in the parking area. Another 1,600 toilets are to be set up in the camps of main religious and other organisations attending the fair. An STP has also been constructed in the Magh Mela area. The cleaning system of the fair will be in the hands of 2,160 sanitation workers,” he shared.
Besides distributing free cloth bags, officials have planned playing messages related to the Swachh Bharat Mission campaign on LCD screens being installed in the Mela area.
Divisional commissioner Vijay Vishwas Pant said with an aim to provide best of facilities to pilgrims and visitors alike, a 500-bed dormitory will also be constructed at the fair. For the first time, water sports activities like water polo, triathlon and others will be organised during the fair to attract tourists.
Mela officer Arvind Chauhan said all the sectors of the fair will be divided into zones/circles. and for the first time, their proper digital mapping will be done. The aim is to put up signboards ‘You are here’ at every intersection of the fair area that would allow visitors to know exactly where they stand in the vast tent city.
To help visitors, young volunteers will also be engaged. An agreement has been made on engaging college students for this. About 700 ‘mela friends’ will be seen helping devotees.
In light of the Covid threat, 100 helpdesks too have been set up to undertake awareness drives among pilgrims and also undertake their vaccination. Chief medical officer Anshu Pandey said four-member health teams would remain stationed at all 18 entry points of the fair. They would do random screening of pilgrims. This would be besides the 20 sampling and response teams that would also remain active in the mela area.
KALPVAS UNIQUE TO PRAYAGRAJ
Mahakumbh is held at four river bank pilgrimage sites once every 12 years, including at Prayagraj, Ujjain, Nashik and Haridwar. But ‘Kalpvas’ by pilgrims is unique to Prayagraj.
The bathing fest of Paush Purnima holds special significance for the kalpvasis as the dip on the sacred day marks a formal start of their month-long Kalpvas (austerity) during which thousands would camp on the banks of Sangam in tents devoting their time to simple living, performing prayers and rituals, besides reading religious scriptures.
The Kalpvas lasts from the 11th day of the month of the Hindu month of Paush and lasts till the 12th day of the month of Magh — a period during which the pilgrims (kalpvasis), who take the pledge, camp on the banks of the Sangam in tents, devoting themselves to religious activities and bathing thrice in the cold. Even meals are consumed only once a day
MAIN BATHING FESTS
January 6: Paush Purnima
January 15: Makar Sankranti
January 21: Mauni Amavasya
January 26: Basant Panchami
February 5: Maghi Purnima
February 18: Maha Shivaratri