Largest human gathering on Earth today

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Throughout most of Sunday, men, women and children on tractors, autorickshaws, cars, two-wheelers, or the ones driving SUVs, kept pouring in into the Kumbh Mela area hoping to settle down in time for the auspicious bath on Makar Sankranti on Monday, which would mark the beginning of Kumbh-2013, the biggest religious festival on earth.

The administration, meanwhile, is keeping its fingers crossed saying it would be the "first test" of all the preparations made so far. At least 10,000 police personnel have been deployed to keep the first bath incident-free. Around 30,000 in all would be present over the next few days. Commandos of the Anti-Terrrorist Squad (ATS), anti-sabotage teams, sniffer dogs, landmine checking teams would be working round-the-clock to prevent any untoward incident. More than 5,500 sanitation workers have also been deployed to keep the Mela area clean.

The Kumbh Mela this time would last for 56 days. More than eight crore people are expected to visit Sangam and the preparations have been made with a budget of around Rs 1,200 crore.

Devotion, faith or rituals, virtually anything and everything that is associated with the Hindu religion seems to be bringing people here. For instance, Ram Chandra Ojha, from Kailali district in Nepal, came to Allahabad on Saturday along with 18 of his family members and village-mates, including women, for shraddh (post-funeral rites) of his ancestors.

The shraddh was performed on Sunday, but the group decided to brave the winter chill sleeping under an open sky just to be able to take the holy dip on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti (when Sun enters in Capricorn zodiac as per Hindu mythology) on Monday, marking the beginning of the Kumbh-2013.

Ojha's group settled for the open sky just outside a make-shift night shelter on Triveni Road towards Sangam because it had become chock-a-block with people.

Barely 100 metres from the "night shelter" is the camp of Mahanirvani akhara, which will take lead the shahi snan (royal bath).

Talking about the preparations, secretary of Mahanirvani akhara, Swami Ravindra Puri, says: "The tradition never changes. There will be four horses, one of which will be without any rider, as it is believed that our isht devta (resident deity) would be astride it. The Mahamandaleshwars will be seated on their silver thrones, mounted on tractors. There would be no elephants. During the times of kings, the saints used to be taken to the Sangam in royal splendour. This is now ensured by the akharas themselves."

He adds, "It is believed that when the Sun enters Capricorn and Jupiter enters Taurus zodiac, all the 33 crore gods and goddesses are present at Sangam — which happens every 12 years — to bless the saints and the devotees."

The administration, in consultation with the 13 akharas, has given 40 minutes time to each akhara.

Mahanirvani, followed by Atal akhara, would be the first two to bathe at Sangam. The first bath would be taken at 5.15 am.

District Magistrate (Kumbh) Mani Prasad Mishra said that the bathing of the akharas was likely to continue till 5 pm. "There would be a 15-minute break between one procession leaving and another coming. The interval will be used for cleaning and maintenance purposes," he said.

So far, only Sectors 4 and 5, housing the akharas, have actually become populated. A large number of camps in other sectors are yet to come up. The administration says that the entire Mela area would bear a settled look by January 27, when the Magh Mela begins.

To ensure incident-free bathing of the akharas, the administration would be providing a team headed by a magistrate-level officer and a circle officer, besides a team of all the civic agencies, with all the akhara processions.

"For the other devotees, there are around 18 ghats and the same number of pontoon bridges across all the 10 sectors which have come up on the riverbed around Sangam. To make bathing risk-free, deep water barricading has been done wherever required," Mishra said.

Line-up of akharas for Monday's shahi snan

At 5.15 am, Mahanirvani akhara will lead the shahi snan (royal bath).

Followed by Atal akhara, Niranjani and Anand akharas.

Juna akhara — the biggest of all — will be the fifth to take the holy dip followed by Agni and Avahan akharas.

Vaishnav akharas — Digambar, Nirvani Ani and Nirmohi — will be next.

The last three would be Bada Udasin, Naya Udasin and Nirmal akharas.

The naga sadhus will be at the forefront of all processions.

The administration has put restrictions on photography from the river side, particularly within 200 metres of the bathing area, to prevent indecent representation of women bathing

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