Goverdhan: Hundreds of thousands of devotees from around the country have flocked to the holy town of Goverdhan to begin the annual 21-km parikrama (circumambulation) around the hill that Lord Krishna, as a child, is believed to have lifted on his little finger to protect his faithful from the wrath of Lord Indra, the Hindu god of rain.
The Goverdhan Parbat is a narrow sandstone hill called Giriraj, about eight kilometres long. When Chaitanya Mahaprabhu performed the parikrama during his visit to Vrindavan early in the 16th century, he did not climb the Goverdhan Parbat, saying it was Krishna himself in the form of the hill. Followers of Gaudiya Vaishnav community follow the tradition and celebrate Mudiya Poonau as Guru Poornima.
The five-day fair will climax on full moon night July 23.
The Mathura district administration, already on high alert, has made elaborate security and traffic arrangements to ensure smooth flow of pilgrims and avoid hassles.
The devotional fervour is high with around two million pilgrims already trekking the parikrama marg. Going by past figures, the number of pilgrims in the next couple of days should cross 10 million, say the local priests.
"This happens to be one of the biggest fairs in this part of the country. And if you take into account the Jai Gurudev annual event already begun in Mathura, it`s a vast human deluge in the Braj Mandal," said Nimbo guru, a priest at Daan Ghati.
For three days, "the Yamuna Expressway will be used to divert heavy vehicles from Delhi, Haryana and Punjab to reach Agra," an official said.
Fortunately, after several rainless days, there was some respite after showers hit the Braj Mandal Thursday.
Talking of poor amenities and arrangements, the list could be endless but the devotees take everything in their stride, showing no signs of fatigue or frustration as they spiritedly march to complete the parikrama of the holy hill, shouting "Giriraj Maharaj ki Jai," or "Radhey Radhey" and "Hari Bol". The atmosphere is truly ecstactic, said Jugal Kishore, a member of Agra`s Parikrama Samiti.
"On Thursday itself, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had taken a holy dip in the Mansi Ganga in Goverdhan," said a police officer. District authorities Friday morning deployed more security personnel on the parikrama marg and the holy pond in the centre of Goverdhan town.
District authorities have banned bathing in the holy kunds on the parikrama trail. At the main centre, the Mansi Ganga, more than 500 sprinklers and showers will allow pilgrims to take a holy bath.
The pleasant weather this year has been a major factor attracting a larger turnout, said Krishna Das, a priest at the main temple in Daan Ghati. The town of Jati Pura was overflowing with people. Other shrines along the parikrama route like Radha Kund, Shyam Kund, Kusum Sarovar and Har Gokul mandir are crowded as pilgrims are desperate to offer milk and puja offerings and pay obeisance.
All along the route, one hears only "Radhey Radhey" as kirtan parties joyously make their way through, chanting bhajans.
"The roadside tea stalls and others selling puja offerings are doing a roaring business. The number of complaints against supply of synthetic milk for offering to the Girraj Maharaj has been very high, but the administration is not concerned," said Mohan Babu of Hathras.
Pilgrims from Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are pouring in, even as showers lash the town. The pressure on police camps sheltering those who have lost their relatives or children their parents is very high, said NGO functionary Ramesh Sharma.
The state roadways deployed an additional 1,000 buses while the railways extended some trains and provided more halts to clear the rush.
More than 20 private parking areas have been developed which are overflowing with vehicles. The district authorities in Mathura said more than 3,000 personnel had been deployed and CCTV cameras were keeping a close vigil. Movement of all types of vehicles, including rikshaws, has been stopped in the parikrama area.
With Mudiya Poonau fair, the festival season in the Braj Mandal starts with a bang to draw millions of devouts till Janmashtami. "In the Sawan Bhadon period there will be Jhankis and Jhoolas, Phool Bunglows in most temples in Mathura and Vrindavan," said Achyarya Gopi Ballabh Shastri.