Tuesday was Makar Sankranti, one of the sacred bathing days of the 50-day fair. But 'shahi snan' or no 'shahi snan', there was no discernible dip in the number of people.
If day one was for ascetics from akharas and those who braved the surging crowds, day two of the Kumbh Mela on Wednesday was for the many lakhs, including tourists, who lined up along the Sangam for a purifying dip. The pull of the waters was as strong on Wednesday, the second day of the largest religious festival on earth, with people taking a plunge in the Sangam, the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.
Tuesday was Makar Sankranti, one of the sacred bathing days of the 50-day fair. But ‘shahi snan’ or no ‘shahi snan’, there was no discernible dip in the number of people. It is called “the greatest show on earth” for a reason, said one visitor. “To be very honest, we were not expecting the crowds to be smaller. Also, most of the roads were open for visitors today. And then it is just the second day. We expect the same throughout the 50-day mela, not just for the ‘shahi snan’,” said a police officer who didn’t want to be identified.
On Tuesday, the administration restricted the entry of all types of vehicles — other than those required for essential services — in the vicinity of Kumbh Nagari, the sprawling 32,000-hectare township that has come up on the banks of the river. “We came yesterday also. But didn’t get to take the holy dip. Yesterday, it was a show of akharas. They took a lot of time, first with the procession and then the bath. Today is the day for tourists,” said 28-year-old Ranjan Mitra. “Yes, I would have liked less crowd as there was just too much of pushing and pulling at the ghats,” Mitra said as loudspeakers blared out names of people lost in the mela — a familiar trope in many a Hindi film.
Like always, many people were seen making a beeline for the Juna akhara, an organisation of sadhus, and posing with Nagas, naked men with ash smeared on their body and long dreadlocks. “You come tomorrow. Today, I have to attend to my international disciples,” said a Naga sadhu, readying his chillum. Guilia, who came here from Italy with her friends, was one of the “international disciples”. “Our train got delayed and we couldn’t reach on time yesterday for the sacred bath. We will be staying with Naga sadhus and exploring the mystic India,” she said.
One also witnessed a decent number number of people visiting the Kalpavasis side of the mela, which is established on the other side of the main Triveni Sangam this time. Kalpavasis, who are pilgrims following the same regimen like sadhus during the course of the mela, have been an essential part of the Prayag Kumbh since time immemorial.
Breaking through the melee with their soulful rendition of bhajans was a group of blind students of the Shri Vrindavan Andh Mahavidyalaya who entertained the crowds. “I, of course, can’t see the expression on the face of the audience, but my guru ji said that people present enjoyed my music,” said Ashok, 19, who has been blind since birth. The mela will come to a close on Maha Shivratri, March 4.