All hands on board as Kumbh begins today

Throughout Sunday, pilgrims assembled at the Sangam, hoping to settle down in time for the auspicious Makar Sankranti bath on Monday, which would mark the beginning of the Kumbh Mela.

The administration said that Monday would be the "first test" of all preparations made so far. At least 10,000 police personnel have been deployed to keep the first ritual bath incident-free. Around 30,000 police personnel would be present over the next few days. Commandos of the Anti-Terrorist Squad, anti-sabotage teams, landmine checking teams and sniffer dogs would be working round-the-clock to prevent any untoward incident. More than 5,500 sanitation workers have been deployed to keep the area clean.

The Mela this time will last for 56 days. More than eight crore people are expected here and preparations have been made with a budget of around Rs 1,200 crore.

Ram Chandra Ojha, from Kailali district in Nepal, for instance, came to Allahabad on Saturday along with 18 of his family members to perform the shraddh of his ancestors. The group will brave the winter chill to be able to take bath on Monday. Ojha's group settled under the open sky just outside a make-shift night shelter on the Triveni Road.

Barely 100 m from the night shelter is the camp of Mahanirvani Akhara, which will take lead in the shahi snan on Monday. Describing the procession, secretary of the akhara Swami Ravindra Puri, said: "There will be four horses, one of which will be without a rider, as it is believed that our ishta devta (resident deity) would ride it. The Mahamandaleshwars will be seated on silver thrones, mounted on tractors. There would be no elephants."

The administration, in consultation with the 13 akharas, has given 40 minutes to each akhara. Mahanirvani, followed by Atal Akhara, would be the first two religious groups to bathe at the Sangam. The first bath would be take place at 5.15 am. District Magistrate (Kumbh), Mani Prasad Mishra, said the bathing of the akharas was likely to continue till 5 pm. "There would be a 15-minute break between two processions. This interval will be used for cleaning and maintenance," he said.

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