Allahabad: Maha Kumbh Mela, often described as the "greatest show on earth" globally, is all set to begin here tomorrow with millions of people from across the country as well as abroad expected to attend the religious gathering.
The Mela, held every 12 years, will go on for next two months and will conclude on Maha Shivaratri on March 10.
Expecting a turn out of about 1.1 crore people to take holy dip tomorrow on Makar Sankranti, the administration has put in place elaborate security arrangements to thwart any kind of terrorist activity, prevent stampedes or any other type of law and order challenge.
The administration are expecting a nearly 10 per cent rise in pilgrims attending the mass Hindu pilgrimage this year compared to the previous Maha Kumbh held here in 2001.
Exceptionally large crowds are also expected on Mauni Amavasya (February 10, 3 crore) and Basant Panchmi (February 15, 1.9 crore).
Besides, spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Baba Ramdev and Asaram Bapu, also have planned their visits.
The huge turnout of people, visits of high-profile gurus in addition to the presence of naga sanyasis have increased the pressure on police and administration for smooth functioning of the Kumbh Mela.
A lurking fear of terrorist strike has further heightened the challenges in recent years.
"More than 7,000 personnel of central paramilitary forces, including companies of the Rapid Action Force and the National Disaster Response Force, have been pressed into service," IGP (Allahabad) Alok Sharma, designated as the nodal officer for security arrangements during the Maha Kumbh, said.
Pilgrims who would be camping in the sprawling Kumbh Mela ground, spread over an area of about 6000 acres, will be verified by security forces.
Besides, a number of make-shift police stations and outposts have been erected in the area which has been notified as a temporary district and provided with the wherewithal to function as such.
According to Senior Superintendent of Police of Kumbh, R K S Rathore, "as many as 30 police stations and 40 outposts have been set up in the Mela ground, which are being manned by 50 inspectors, 550 sub-inspectors, 450 head constables and 5800 constables".
"These policemen have been made to undergo rigorous training. With the help of video clippings of large gatherings and senior officers have explained to them the nitty-gritty of crowd management.
"Besides, the policemen have been counselled to behave well with all the visitors, be they ordinary pilgrims, tourists from far-off places, or religious leaders," the SSP said.
The policemen will be provided round-the-clock assistance by about 4000 personnel of Provincial Armed Constabulary, the armed wing of UP police, which is known for its expertise in tackling tough situations, IGP Alok Sharma said.
"CCTV cameras have been installed across the sprawling Mela area to keep a tab on the activities of those taking part in the congregation.
Besides, policemen will be doing rounds in plain clothes to keep a watch on thieves, pickpockets and other elements involved in petty crimes," Rathore said.
"Adequate deployment of police personnel is being ensured at all the 38 bathing ghats along the rivers Ganga and Yamuna.
Care has been taken to ensure that the police personnel deployed there are expert divers and swimmers and are able to react quickly and effectively in case of an emergency," he added.
Ever since the infamous stampede of 1954, the Maha Kumbh congregations held here every 12 years have remained untouched by any tragedy.
More than 500 people were killed in the stampede that broke out on February 3, 1954 on the main bathing festival of Mauni Amavasya.