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Millions take holy dip on Sankranti

People offered prayers to Kapil Muni, the god who is said to have brought the Ganga to the earth.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2006 19:14 IST

Millions of Hindus took a dip on Saturday in the holy Ganga river to celebrate the winter harvest festival, braving cold that has claimed scores of lives across the country.

Hundreds of thousands of people lined the river before dawn at Ganga Sagar where it empties into the Bay of Bengal.

However, a local official said four people died and two dozen more fell ill after entering the chilly Ganga, which devout Hindus worship as a goddess.

"Four people have died because of cold," district magistrate Roshni Sen said at Ganga Sagar, 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Kolkata.

Sen said that the victims were old people who had succumbed to the early morning chill and exhaustion.

The religious festival of Makar Sankrantiis celebrated when the sun enters a new zodiac sign, marking the end of winter and the beginning of the harvest season.

The massed faithful offered prayers to Kapil Muni, the god who is said to have brought the Ganga to the earth.

At Ganga Sagar, Naga sadhus or holy men drew maximum attention, as they roamed around naked smoking cannabis and offering blessings.

Across India people thronged other rivers for a dip before feasting on sesame seed preparations, agencies reported.

Winter temperatures have plunged to 70-year lows, leaving nearly 200 people dead in India, a country used to roasting summers and where millions are homeless.

First Published: Jan 16, 2006 19:14 IST