Haridwar: Deep, unquestionable faith. That’s what millions of bathers at the first ritual bath of the Mahakumbh Mela in Haridwar shared as they carried forward a centuries-old Indian tradition by taking a holy dip in the Ganges river Thursday and emerged feeling blissful.
“The bath was a beautiful experience. I am feeling satisfied deep down. This is the first time we are visiting the Mahakumbh Mela,” Ramesh Sharma, a native of Shimla, said. Sharma had brought his wife and son for the ritual dip.
Sharma, who believes in the power of the river as a cleanser of sins and rejuvenation, “plans to return for the ’shahi snan’ (main bathing ritual) in February”.
If peace is the essence of the Mahakumbh Mela, then Rae Bareli-based Jagesh Kumar certainly “felt a strange contentment” after his ’snan’. “The water was cold, but it was sheer bliss with the sun shining down on me. It makes the pull of religion stronger,” said the first-time visitor to the fair.
Nearby, at the Mahila Ghat, hundreds of women, mostly in groups, screamed in joy as they touched the cold water.
“He Gange maiya, mera uddhar kara do, he Jagdambe mata, mera bera paar kara do (Mother Ganga, deliver me, Jagdambe mata, command my ship through the sea of life},” chanted Krishnapyari, a resident of New Delhi, who bathed with a group of five women in the morning.
“We always sing when we bathe in the Ganga and this is a special festival,” the middle-aged woman clad in a sari said as she emerged from the river with her friends.
The Brahma Kund - the stretch of the river at Har Ki Pauri which was the venue of the ’snan’ - wore a colourfully chaotic look. The steps leading to the river were littered with odd piles of clothes discarded by the bathers in a hurry.
Lengths of coloured fabric, saris floated across the river as the women changed into new clothes after the bath.
Rajesh Rawal, a resident of New Delhi, who bathed with her husband, said she “would bathe once more”.
“I left my children at home because I did not want to be interrupted,” she said, holding a prayer bowl of ceremonial rice, black sesame seeds, roses, marigolds and earthenware lamps that she wanted “to float across the water to bear her wishes to God”.
Madhu, another bather from New Delhi, laughed with joy. “Maaza a gaya (It was fun). How else would you describe the experience,” she said after the dip.
For sadhu Yoginder Nath, a young seer with dreadlocks, who carried “iron spikes and a brass pitcher”, the “snan was the fulfilment of a divine command”.
“I had to bathe because I was told by Har Har Mahadev (Lord Shiva) to do so,” the yogi from Himachal Pradesh told throwing his hands into the air.
The stretch between the six bridges across the river at Har Ki Pauri was a virtual sea of humanity who tumbled into the water like waves.
“Most of the pilgrims come from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh where the influence of Hinduism is more pronounced,” priest Agnish Sharma from Ramghat said.
The devotees were represented by the sects they subscribed to. A group of 80 Vishnu devotees from the Gauriya Vaishnav Math in Nabadwip in West Bengal sang devotional songs as they headed to their retreat after the bath.
“We come to Haridwar often, but this is the first time we are bathing in a Mahakumbh Mela. It is a divine feeling,” N.B. Kundu, a member of the group, said.
Praising the arrangement, the Bengali Vaishnavite said: “This year, we are feeling safer. The administration has provided adequate security.”
The organisers are expecting more people Friday.
“The solar eclipse Friday morning will draw more bathers. It is believed that bathing in the Ganga during the eclipse - when the world darkens with the sun in the shadow - is good for the health and the mind. The water of the river kills germs,” priest Dinesh Giri, who has been associated with the Ganga Maiya Temple, said.