The Maha Kumbh at Prayag (Allahabad) recorded an astounding tally of over three crore bathers on the occasion of “mauni amawasya” on Sunday. This is perhaps the largest religious congregation anywhere in the world. The devout are supposed to observe silence (the Hindi word maun means silence) throughout the day.
Mahant Avadheshanand Giri, head of the biggest ‘akhara’, the ‘Juna akhara’, told reporters that the main reason for such a huge gathering was the rare stellar combination on this day which would only be seen after 147 years now. It is believed that bathers who take a dip at the ‘sangam’ (confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati) on this day can wash away all their sins and attain ‘moksha’ (freedom from the cycle of life and death).
The auspicious time for the ‘shahi snan’ (royal bathing) on ‘mauni amawasya’ was from dawn to dusk on Sunday. Lakhs of devotees had started moving towards the ghats in the early hours even though it was still dark. Since the crowds are known to peak on ‘mauni amawasya’, strict security arrangements were in place. Mela officer MP Mishra said 25,000 policemen were standing guard at the 22 ghats at the ‘sangam’. Apart from the UP Police, the Provincial Armed Constabulary and the state’s Anti Terrorist Squad, central paramilitary forces like ITBP, CRPF, BSF and RAF are also keeping a close vigil, he said.
The ‘shahi snan’ begins with the ‘mahamandaleshwars’ of the ‘akharas’ being given first priority in taking the holy dip. The ‘akharas’ have a regimented and organised manner of going for the ‘shahi snan’ one after the other.
The star attraction, as always, were the ‘Naga’ sadhus of the ‘juna akhara’, which boasts of over three lakh sadhus. The processions of the ‘akharas’ were led by their ‘Shri Mahants’ and ‘Mahamandaleshwars’ riding richly-decorated chariots with bands playing devotional tunes.
There are altogether 13 ‘akharas’ belonging to various sects and each of them have been allotted specific time, ranging from 30 minutes to an hour, depending upon the size of their procession.
Sunday was the third of the six auspicious bathing days during the Kumbh Mela, which lasts 55 days.