Ritual bath at Mahakumbh Mela amid tight security


Haridwar : At least five million pilgrims beat the early morning chill and the mist to bathe in the river Ganges in the temple town of Haridwar Jan 14, beginning an auspicious cycle of an over three-month long Mahakumbh Mela Thursday amid stringent security.

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The bathers flocked to Brahma Kund, an embanked stretch of the river at the foot of a shrine of Lord Shiva and Ganga Maiya, to dip in the river and pray to the sun as it rose slowly over the hills – shining pale through a bank of mist. Devotional songs and chimes of temple bells lent a fervour to the ritual.

According to astrologers, the Mahakumbh Mela marks the journey of the sun into Aries and Jupiter into Aquarius. “The sun will enter Capricorn first and then move on to Aries,” a priest at a Lakshmi-Narayan temple on the bank of the river told IANS.

The Mahakumbh Mela occurs every 12 years.

The morning bath which ended at noon resumed again in the afternoon and lasted through out the day. It would continue Friday (Jan 15) – on the day of the solar eclipse and the Mauni Amavasya.

The bathers mostly comprised lay devotees. The seers, including the ash-smeared Naga sadhus who are staying in ‘akhadas’ at Jwalapur, three km from Haridwar town, will begin their bathing rituals Jan 20, the day of the Basant Panchami, Srinivas ji, a priest at the Ganga Maiya temple in Har-ki-Pauri, said.

“The crowd will peak around Jan 20 when the seers owing allegiance to various Shaivite and Vaishanvite akhadas (sects) will descend on Brahma Kund to bathe and pray,” Srinivas ji told IANS.

The day, according to the priest, was also one of “tarpan” – meant to pay homage to the souls of ancestors.

Cries of “Jai Ganga Maiya” and “Har Har Mahadev” rent the air as the bathers arrived in groups and clambered down the steps to the river, offering ceremonial water to the sun in brass and copper pitchers. Gender walls crumbled as men and women sprinkled water on each other in a show of bonhomie.

Security was tight. Personnel of the Rapid Action Force, an anti-riot squad, the state police and the army patrolled the venue herding bathers out after the ritual dips to avoid crowding.

“We cannot afford to take chances though we do not apprehend any threat to security,” a senior state police officer said. Life guards lined the banks to rescue bathers if they got carried away in the swift current.

According to Indian Vedic myths, it is believed that Haridwar is one of the places where “a drop of the nectar of immortality or ‘amrit’ fell from the pitcher or Kumbh” when Garuda, the divine bird of Lord Vishnu was spiriting it away from the demons during the war between the gods and the ‘asuras’ (demons). Since then, Haridwar, along with Allahabad, Nasik and Ujjain – the four places on earth where a drop of nectar dropped down from the pot – have been celebrating the Kumbh Mela to perpetuate the myth.

“We were expecting more pilgrims and holy men but many have gone to Haryana and south India to witness the solar eclipse. They will flock to Haridwar Jan 16,” the priest of a Shiva temple at Har-ki-Pauri told IANS.

The religious gathering that began Jan 14 will end April 28 after the Baisakhi Shahi Snan – one of the most important bathing dates April 14.