Haridwar: Amidst the chants of `bum bum bhole`, thousands of ash-smeared Naga sadhus, displaying their traditional weapons, today marched through this holy town before taking a dip in the Ganga on the occasion of the first `shahi snan` of the Kumbh on Mahashivratri.
Though the general public had thronged the over 300 bathing ghats here from midnight, the most awaited was the procession of the akharas (Hindu orders), which witnessed
thousands of Naga sadhus, displaying their acrobatic skills, adding colour to the Kumbh Mela which started on January 14.
The procession, to mark the day when Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati, was led by Gyan Das, the president of the Akhara Association consisting of 13 orders.
Following him were `Juna Akhara` Nagas and the sants including some well-known ones like `Pilot Baba` and `Soham Baba`. The sants passed through the town atop their decorated vans as the bands played loud music to which hundreds of their followers danced.
Thousands of people had lined up along the narrow streets while many others were atop houses to get a view of the procession.
Incidentally, though the last Maha Kumbh at Allahabad in 2007 witnessed the Nagas riding caparisoned elephants and horses, this time only three to five horses could be seen.
But what really stole the show was the sight of thousands of Nagas running down the steps of the Bhram Kund at the main bathing ghat `Hari Ki Pauri` and plunging into the river.
Some thundered, shouting slogans and displaying swords and maces while others enjoyed their swim from one side of the ghat to the other.
The administration, in a bid to prevent any mishap during the holy royal bath, during which over 10 lakh devotees are expected to take a dip in the Ganga by evening, has turned the city into a fortress.
From morning, the akharas, which have established their camps in the city was buzzing with activity. The Juna Nagas smeared themselves with ash and went straight to their temple where they offered their prayers before breaking into dance and displaying various acrobatic skills.
While some displayed their prowess with traditional weapons, others preferred to sit quite smoking their `chillums` and talking the media and posing for pictures.
The first akhara to take the `shahi snan` was the Juna Akhara, which was followed by others who all have been allotted different time slots.
Only seven akharas will participate in the royal bath here as rest are at Brindavan.
The general public, who are barred from the Brahm Kund at Hari Ki Pauri from 10 am to 6:00 pm, the time fixed for Naga sadhus to take their bath, filled up other ghats in the city.
From children to elderly men and women, everyone braved the cold waters of the Ganga and took their bath. The narrow lanes of the otherwise calm and quiet city were filled with people. The vehicular traffic to and from of the city has been completely stopped.
The last Maha Kumbh in Haridwar was held in 1998. The Kumbh Mela is celebrated every three years in four locations across India -- Haridwar, Allahabad, Ujjain and Nashik.
The Kumbh Mela goes back to the Vedic age and as per Hindu mythology, the places were Kumbh is observed are the ones where four drops of amrit (nectar) fell from the kumbh (pot) at the four places when Lord Vishnu`s vahan (vehicle) Garuda sat while escaping from the demons who also wanted the share of the nectar.
Belief is that the Ganga also acquires certain properties of the nectar during Kumbh and hence the crowds throng the mela to take a dip in the river. Believers say the holy dip
washes away one`s sins.
Devotees also thronged various temples in Rishikesh, Uttarkashi and Gopeshwar to offer prayers on the occasion of Mahashivaratri.
The remaining key dates for the holy bath during the Kumbh are March 15 (Somvati Amavasya), March 16 (Nvasamvatsar), March 24 (Rama Navami), March 30 (Chaitra Purnima), April 14 (Mesh Sankranti) and April 28 (Baishakh Adimasaha Purnima).