350,000 take holy dip at Gangasagar, heart attacks claim four


Gangasagar (West Bengal) : An estimated 350,000 people took a holy dip at the confluence of the river Ganga and the Bay of Bengal here on the occasion of Makar Sankranti Tuesday while wandering Hindu monks prayed for an end to the Kolkata fire and peace in Nandigram.

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Pilgrims from various parts of the country and abroad performed their morning ablutions at the five ghats (staircases) in Gangasagar in West Bengal’s South 24-Parganas district and offered prayers at the famous Kapil Muni temple.

The pilgrimage to this holy spot was also the end of life’s journey for some as police confirmed the death of at least four pilgrims. They are suspected to have died of heart attacks.

Makar Sankranti is one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar and is celebrated in almost all parts of the country in myriad ways with devotion, fervour and gaiety.

Tight security arrangements have been made on the Sagar Island for the festival. A temporary police station with a control room manned by senior police officers has been set up in the area.

Around 200 fireproof huts have been erected for pilgrims.

The huts, made from the ‘hogla’ (Typha elephantiana) plant, which had been dipped in a fire-resistant chemical, dried and then used for making the huts.

The Shankaracharya of Puri, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, arrived here for the festival accompanied by 300 devotees. About 500 Naga Sadhus are also present in the town.

Gangasagar is famous for the various babas or Hindu monks who arrive here every year on the occasion of Makar Sankranti.

If “mobile baba” was an attraction on an earlier occasion after mobile phones became popular, this year a “cycle baba” drew special attention.

“I am praying for world peace. I am also praying to Ganga maiya (Mother Ganges) to put out the ongoing blaze in Kolkata’s Burrabazar and prevalence of peace in Nandigram,” said Cycle Baba, who hails from Nepal.

Foreign tourists also thronged the ghats of Gangasagar.

“What amazes me here is the sharing of piety by thousands. It is mind-boggling,” said a tourist from Europe.