Khammam/Vijayawada: Thousands of pilgrims took holy dip in Godavari river on Tuesday as Godavari maha pushkaralu, the once in 144-year event, began in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
About eight crore people are expected to participate in the 12-day event, termed as maha kumbh mela of the south, in both the Telugu states.
The event began on a tragic note in Andhra Pradesh as 22 pilgrims were killed and many others injured in a stampede at one of bathing ghats at Rajahmundry in East Godavari district.
Though pushkaralu, dedicated to worshipping rivers, take place once in 12 years, this time it is considered very auspicious from the astrological point of view. Priests say such an event comes once in 144 years.
The chief ministers of the two states along with their family members took the holy dip at around 6.20 am, the auspicious time, to formally launch the festival.
While Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao took the dip at historic temple town of Dharampuri in Karimnagar district, his Andhra counterpart N Chandrababu Naidu performed the rituals at Rajahmundry.
Both the states have made elaborate arrangements for the peaceful and smooth conduct of the mega event, which is expected to attract pilgrims from different parts of the country.
While Telangana has constructed 106 bathing ghats in five districts, Andhra has made elaborate arrangements for the pilgrims at 280 ghats in East and West Godavari districts.
The authorities in both the states have deployed expert swimmers and kept rescue boats ready to meet any contingency. They have also set up control rooms and to monitor the event
With the river almost drying up at many points along its 600 km long course in Telangana, the state government released water from three irrigation projects. While 4,000 cusecs each was released from Sriramsagar and Kadem projects, 1,000 cusecs was let out from Yellampalli reservoir.
Though Telangana had requested neighbouring Maharashtra to release water upstream, it has not received any positive response.
The water level is very low at temple town of Basar in Adilabad district. Sri Tridandi Srimannarayana Chinna Jeyar Swamy took holy dip at 6.26 a.m. in the temple town of Bhadrachalam in Khammam district of Telangana to formally launch the river festival.
Large number of pilgrims thronged Bhadrachalam, the abode of Lord Sitaramachandra Swamy, located on the banks of the river.
As this is the first pushkaram after formation of separate Telangana state, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government is making all efforts to ensure its grand success. The chief minister said that celebrating maha pushkaram, which comes once in 144 years, in the first year of statehood is a good omen for the state.
Special buses and trains were being operated in both the states to ferry pilgrims. Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) ran 2,270 special buses.
Large number of policemen have been deployed at bathing ghats as part of massive security arrangements. Surveillance cameras were also installed to keep a tab on the movements of suspects.
The police have banned photography and videography at the bathing ghats and appealed to people to respect others' privacy.