Many sadhus belong to monastic orders called Akharas and some live in remote caves, stepping out for the Ardh Kumbh Mela, generally held once every three years in four cities.
2019 Ardh Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world commenced on January 15 on Makar Sankranti – considered as the most auspicious day in the Hindu calendar.
Day one was for ascetics from various akharas and those who braved the surging crowds; day two on Wednesday (January 16) was for hundreds of thousands of people, including tourists, who lined up along the Sangam for a purifying dip.
The story behind
During the struggle to gain this pot full of Amrit, a fight ensued between gods and demons and drops of Amrit spilled near Prayag, Nashik-Triyambakeshwar, Haridwar, and Ujjain.
The rivers situated in these areas are considered to be carrying the nectar that fell from the pot.
Kumbh Mela 2019, which started on January 15 and will continue till March 4, is spread across 32 square km and is expected to host around 150 million people from across the world.
It is the largest peaceful gathering of pilgrims who come together every three years in Haridwar, Prayagraj, Ujjain, and Nasik. The Kumbh Mela returns to each of these cities after every 12 years to mark the celebration of Hindu heritage.
From 247 km of streets inside the venue and parking capacity of 5.63 lakh to 1,22,500 toilets and 58 police outposts, the Mela ground is currently a world in itself. Moreover, 2,132 medical personnel and around 20,000 police officials, including home guards, PAC companies and central para-military forces have been deployed at the Kumbh Mela venue.
The BJP-led Yogi Adityanath government has renamed Ardh Kumbh as Kumbh and the Kumbh as Maha Kumbh.
During the eight-week festival at Prayagraj in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, up to 150 million people, including a million foreign visitors, are expected to bathe at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and a mythical third river, the Saraswati.
More than 18 million pilgrims led by naked, ash-smeared ascetics had entered the grounds by 1600 local time (1130 GMT) on Tuesday, said a spokesman for the Kumbh Mela Adhikari, the main organizing committee.
Estimating crowd numbers at the site, two thirds the size of Manhattan is difficult.
However, if the trend continues, it would be the largest ever Kumbh.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which governs the state, sees a successful festival as a way to burnish its credentials as a defender of the Hindu faith.
Giant cardboard cutouts of Modi, who faces a tough test in a general election due by May, adorned the sacred site.
Devout Hindus believe bathing in the waters of the Ganges absolves people of sins and at the time of the Kumbh Mela, or the “festival of the pot”, it brings salvation from the cycle of life and death.
A highlight is the appearance of the Naga sadhus, or ascetics, who worship Shiva and bathe on the first day.
Many sadhus belong to monastic orders called Akharas and some live in remote caves, stepping out for the Kumbh Mela, generally held once every three years in four cities.
Shortly before dawn on Tuesday, the first ascetics, the Panchayati, plunged into the water amid cries of “har har Mahadev”, or “everyone is Mahadev”, another name for Shiva.
“It is out of this world,” said Seth. “When you get in the water, you feel like you are alive.”
Members of the largest monastic order at the festival, the Juna Akhara, raced down to the water carrying tridents and spears as police held back throngs of spectators.
“The river gives us immortality,” said a naked sadhu from the Juna Akhara as he covered his body in ash after bathing.
Photo courtesy : Indian Media