The Maha Kumbh began this morning with lakhs of devotees as well as ascetics and religious leaders of various orders converging on the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical river Saraswati here for a holy dip on the occasion of Makar Sankranti.
The inaugural day of the two-month-long congregation, often described as the "greatest show on earth", was marked by the first "Shahi Snan" of 13 "akharas" wherein Naga Sadhus - a martial order of ascetics who move about either naked or scantily clad with matted hair and ash smeared bodies - marched to Sangam in processions with their leaders perched atop ornately decorated elephants, horses and chariots and musical bands in attendance in a unique blend of austerity and opulence.
The first to move out were Mahanirvani and Atal Akharas, followed by Niranjani and Anand and then Joona, Awahan and Agni.
They are to be followed by Nirvani Ani, Digambar Ani and Nirmohi and Naya Udasin, Bara Udasin and Nirmal akharas in the same order fixed during the British period following a violent clash among ascetics of different akharas at a kumbh congregation.
The akharas have been allotted fixed time, ranging from 30 minutes to about an hour depending upon the size of their respective procession, for bathing with routes for going to and returning from Sangam so separated as to ward off possibility of members of rival akharas coming in contact with each other.
Devotees from across the country had started pouring in since last evening and the influx continues despite cold weather and elaborate security arrangements on account of which bathers are being made to park their vehicles several kilometres away from the holy confluence and reach the Sangam on foot.
Vehicular traffic has been banned on most of the roads in the city from yesterday till tomorrow to facilitate movement of people.