Countdown for Kumbh Mela begins with 'Peshwai' of Naga sadhus

Naga sadhu
Countdown for the upcoming Maha Kumbh congregation here began today with thousands of Naga sadhus, revered for their austerity and feared for their quick temper, marching in a majestic procession to their camps in the vicinity of the holy confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical river Saraswati.

More than 5,000 scantily-clad Naga sadhus made their ceremonial entry into the sprawling Kumbh Mela on the first day of 'Peshwai' the name by which the ceremonial entry of ascetics is popularly known.

The procession, which included dozens of beautifully decorated horses, elephants and musical bands playing devotional tunes, commenced at Maujagiri Ashram situated in Keedganj locality here and traversed a distance of about three kilometres to reach the assigned camps near the holy Sangam.

Tight security measures were in place for the procession with hundreds of personnel from the local police, Provincial Armed Constabulary and bomb disposal squads and sniffer dogs escorting the sadhus to their destination.

The "akharas" are communities of martial monks owing their origin to Adi Sankaracharya, who had established these groups with a view to protecting the "Sanatana Dharma".

There are altogether 13 "akharas", seven of which are adherents to the "Saivite" school of thought, while three are "Vaishnavites" and an equal number follow the "Udaseen" tradition.

The Naga sadhus are considered a star attraction of the Maha Kumbh Mela, which is held here every 12 years.

"Shahi snan" (royal bathing) takes place on Makar Sankranti, Mauni Amavasya and Basant Panchmi when the Naga sadhus take a holy dip in the Sangam in processions that surpass the "Peshwai" in grandeur.

The Maha Kumbh Mela would officially begin on January 14, coinciding with the festival of Makar Sankranti, and conclude on Maha Shivaratri on March 10.

A sprawling area of over 58.03 square kilometres, comprising parts of the city and trans-Ganga and trans-Yamuna regions of the district, has been notified as "Mela area".

The entire Mela area has been divided into 14 sectors, each of which will be under the charge of an officer of the rank of Sub-Divisional Magistrate.

A huge city of tents is being set up for those wanting to stay in the Mela area during the 55-day-long congregation.

An area of 1,489 hectares has been marked for camping of pilgrims, ascetics and curious tourists while another 448 hectares will be utilised for parking of vehicles, according to Devesh Chaturvedi, the Divisional Commissioner of Allahabad. 'Kumbh Mela' the greatest show on Earth, says a study

London: The Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, to be held at Sangam in Allahabad early next year has been described as the "greatest show on Earth" in a four-year study by British and Indian researchers.

Up to 100 million people will gather on the shores of the Ganges to celebrate the Hindu festival commencing on January 14, 2013.

For four years the team of British and Indian researchers have been studying the event, seeking to understand how people treat each other, how they experience the crowd and what impact the crowd has on their everyday lives.

They will present their findings at a special event at Allahabad University on January 24, 2013.

The study described the Kumbh Mela as an incredible event and the "greatest show on Earth".

The Kumbh Mela attracts worldwide attention as a remarkable spectacle: millions of pilgrims bathing in the Ganges, parades of gurus on thrones, flanked by naked Naga Sadhus smeared in ash.

This research, led by Nick Hopkins at the University of Dundee, Prof Stephen Reicher at the University of St Andrews, and Prof Narayanan Srinivasan at the University of Allahabad shows it to be remarkable in other ways as well.

How is it that a vast city of strangers emerges from nothing every year, and yet it functions harmoniously? How is it that people thrive in an environment that is densely crowded, intensely noisy and often insanitary?

The event in Allahabad will provide the answers to these and other questions about the Mela.

It will also provide insights that are relevant, not only to the Mela, but go to the heart of processes that make human social life possible, which create (or undermine) social cohesion and which shape our sense of well being.

"Sometimes we look at the Mela as an exotic event and focus on how different the pilgrims are from us. Our work shows how the pilgrim experience has lessons for all of us about how to create a good community and to ensure that people thrive in the community," Hopkins said.

"By all the tenets of conventional wisdom, the Mela shouldn't work. It is crowded, noisy and unsanitary. One might expect people to be stressed, quarrelsome and conflictual. Yet the event is harmonious and people are serene. Studying the Mela has forced us to reconsider many basic beliefs about how people function in society," Reicher said.

Narayanan said, "This has been the largest ever social science collaboration between the UK and India and possibly the most successful. The event in Allahabad will be very exciting. It will reveal findings that are sure to surprise people. It will change their understanding of crowds and communities."

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