Sagar Island (West Bengal): Tens of thousands of devotees have assembled at the Sagar Island in West Bengal to take a dip in the Ganga where it flows out into the Bay of Bengal on the occasion of Makar Sankranti.
The state government has made elaborate arrangements for the annual Gangasagar fair beginning Saturday.
"Over two lakh devotees have reached the island with around 20,000 more waiting on the other side of the river bank. As there is no Kumbh Mela this year, the number of pilgrims is likely to increase," South 24-Parganas district magistrate N.S. Nigam said.
"We have made elaborate arrangements not only for the peaceful conduct of the fair but also to ensure the devotees get proper facilities," he added.
About 150 km from Kolkata in South 24-Parganas district, this island is considered auspicious by the Hindus, who gather here on Makar Sankranti, which is annually celebrated Jan 14, for a holy dip and to pray by offering coconuts at the Kapil Muni temple.
The devout believe that a single dip in the sacred water washes off sins of one`s lifetime.
This year, the pilgrims will take the holy dip on Sunday too.
A three-pronged security arrangement has been made with 14 hovercrafts already at hand and helicopters to be deployed to keep a vigil. Over 6,000 security personnel would be pressed into service, Nigam said.
He said adequate number of buses, boats and taxis has been arranged for transportation of the devotees. They will also be provided drinking water in pouches free of cost.
For sanitation, 1,000 temporary and one mobile toilet would be provided.
On the orders of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to ensure peaceful conduct of the fair, as many as four state ministers, including Tourism Minister Rachpal Singh, are at the island supervising arrangements.
"Already eight ministers in the state have visited the Gangasagar Mela site to ensure proper arrangement and security measures. Four of them will stay there with specific duties assigned to them," Banerjee had said.
Banerjee has also abolished pilgrim tax, levied earlier on those who visited the fair.