Lakhs take holy dip at Sangam on Maha Shivratri



Allahabad: Lakhs of devotees on Sunday thronged the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati here for a holy dip on the auspicious occasion of Maha Shivaratri, bringing the Maha Kumbh to a close.

The sprawling landscape around the Sangam, dotted with numerous temples, big and small, was abuzz with activity since dawn as devotees came pouring in after their 'snan' to offer prayers.

Many of the devout also performed the 'Rudrabhisheka' wherein the 'Shiva Linga' was worshipped by pouring 'Gangajal,' milk, honey and sugarcane juice.

There were some anxious moments when a number of youths jumped the barricades put up to prevent devotees from venturing into deep waters and police resorted to the use of force to restore order.

Among those who took the holy dip today included Railways Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who arrived in the city with his family members and is likely to visit the Vindhyachal shrine later in the day for worship, Congress spokesman Javed Urfit said.

The festival is considered to be the concluding day of the Maha Kumbh, which commenced with the Makar Sankranti festival on January 14, and saw millions of people from across the globe and various walks of life converging within a short span of 55 days.

Held at the Sangam every 12 years, the Maha Kumbh of 2013 is likely to be remembered for the largest ever turnout of three crore pilgrims for the Mauni Amavasya festival on February 10.

However, what was otherwise an occasion to rejoice, turned out to be a nightmare for the administration as a stampede broke out later in the day at the Allahabad Junction railway station, which was bursting at the seams with pilgrims on their way back after 'snan.'

The stampede, which claimed 38 lives, came barely an hour after a similar incident was averted at the Kumbh area where the situation was brought under control, but only after some pilgrims died of suffocation.

In total, with the stampedes and fire incidents, over 45 lives were lost during the Maha Kumbh.

Notwithstanding massive administrative arrangements made with a budgetary support of several hundred crores of rupees, the 55-day-long congregation also saw a number of fire incidents.

The most severe of them took place on January 25 which killed seven persons.

In another fire that broke out at the camp of an 'Akhara' of Naga ascetics on the bathing festival of Basant Panchmi, a sadhu was charred.

Besides, there were a dozen other fire-related incidents which caused loss of property with no casualties.

The Maha Kumbh also had its share of controversies.

Swami Paripoornananda Saraswati, a disciple of Dwarka Peeth Shankaracharya Swaroopananda Saraswati, went missing on January 1 and is yet to be traced.

He was on a fast unto death to press the demand for 'Sankaracharya Chatuspath' -- proposing the installation of a statue of Adi Sankara and allotment of land to the priests of all the four 'Peeths' in its vicinity.

Swaroopananda, who had on December 30 taken the unprecedented step of leaving the city with the threat to boycott the Kumbh, relented later following a personal letter from UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and returned to the congregation on February 26.

There was also speculation that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will be "declared" as the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate at functions held by Sangh Parivar outfit Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Although no formal decision was taken in this regard here, seers close to the Sangh Parivar drew criticism for "carrying out political activities at a purely religious event."

The Kumbh was also marked by a number of high-profile figures like Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravishankar and Asaram Bapu holding their camps though a much-awaited tour of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama could not materialise.

PTI