Lakhs take holy dip as 'Maha Kumbh' begins
Ash-smeared naked 'naga' ascetics, sadhus and seers perched atop decked up chariots led millions of pilgrims in taking a holy dip in the Sangam ¿ the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati – marking commencement of the nearly two-month-long 'Maha Kumbh' today.
A sea of humanity converged for the religious event dubbed as the "greatest show on earth" and with the break of dawn, 'Mahanirvani akhara', along with 'Atal akhara' began their majestic "royal bathing procession (shahi snan)" with 'naga' ascetics in the vanguard.
Opulence appeared to be rubbing shoulders with austerity in the grand procession wherein 'naga' sadhus with matted hair and little or no clothes on their ash-smeared bodies presented a glowing contrast alongside the 'mahamandaleshwars' and religious leaders of other sects who came atop well-decorated chariots, horses and elephants.
While the naga ascetics wore garlands of marigold and 'rudraksh', others displayed ornaments and crowns of gold in abundance.
Thousands of curious onlookers, with a fair sprinkling of foreigners, watched these processions and presented a a vast panoramic view of the country's unity in diversity.
On reaching the riverside, the sadhus first worshipped their traditional weapons like tridents and spears and their deities before proceeding for a holy dip in the Sangam.
These two akharas were followed by 11 other sects with time ranging from 30 minutes to about an hour allotted to each of them depending upon the size of their respective procession.
These 'akharas', originally set up by Adi Sankaracharya in the 8th century to defend and propagate Vedic religion, grew in number and size over the years and are considered pivotal to holding of 'Maha Kumbh' congregations, held after every 12 years.
However, in a discordant note to the congregation the Shankaracharya of Dwarka Peeth and Jyotirpeeth Badrikashram Swami Swaroopanand decided to keep away from the congregation despite it being held in an area under his jurisdiction. "Swami Swaroopanandji had demanded the setting up of a 'Chatushpath' for the Shankaracharyas of the four Peeths set up by Adi Sankara in order to distinguish them from self- styled ones mushrooming all over the country, but the administration declined the request saying it amounted to creating a new tradition," said the pontiff's close aide Swami Avimukteswarananda, who is camping at the Mela.