Sagar Island: Over five lakh pilgrims from across India and even abroad took a holy dip in the river Ganga, braving the icy cold water and a chilly wind at the annual Gangasagar Fair here on Makar Sankranti on Saturday.
About 150 km from Kolkata in West Bengal`s South 24 Parganas district, this island is considered auspicious by the Hindus, who gather here at this time of the year to take a holy dip at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal and pray by offering coconut at the Kapil Muni temple.
"The holy dip started Friday and will continue till this (Saturday) afternoon. Some of the pilgrims have already left. About two and a half lakh people are still there," South 24 Parganas district magistrate NS Nigam told a news agency over phone.
"By the evening, the fair ground will become near empty," he added.
There were no reports of untoward incidents, Nigam said.
Gangasagar is considered as the second largest assembly of people after the quadrennial Kumbha Mela (fair).
A large number of sages also took the holy dip accompanied by their disciples and prayed amid frequent shouts of "Kapil Muni ki Jai" as the fair ground represented a mini India.
The devout believe that a single holy dip here washes off the life`s sins.
"I have come here to get rid of whatever sins I have committed and earn peace of mind by bathing in Gangasagar," said Ravikant Srivastava, who has come all the way from Shimla.
The district administration has made elaborate arrangements for crowd control and traffic management.
To prevent any untoward incidents, a large number of police personnel were pressed into service. Coast guard and navy divers were deployed for tackling any emergency.
In 2010, seven pilgrims had died in a stampede on way to Gangasagar.
Meanwhile, five people died Friday due to cardiac arrest after taking the holy dip.
Elsewhere, people ate homemade pithas (pancakes) while there was a big gathering of Baul singers at Jeydev Kenduli of Birbhum district where they have a folk concert annually at this time.