Mauni Amavasya brings 3 crore people to Sangam
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Be it the call of faith; seeking divine blessings; witnessing the world's greatest religious event; or performing pind dan for his ancestors — there were numerous reasons for around three crore people who arrived at Sangam to take a holy dip on the second and the most auspicious 'shahi snan' on Mauni Amavasya on Sunday.
The administration claimed that by noon around two crore people had taken bath, while the numbers were likely to reach around three crore by evening. With people still reaching Sangam in large groups in the evening, the numbers were likely to rise further.
Meanwhile, two students, Anurag Verma of Shravasti district and Sachin Mishra of Allahabad, both friends, drowned near Naraini Ashram ghat. Two other persons died under the Ganga Prasar police station area of Kumbh. While there were reports that the deaths occurred due to a stampede-like situation, the administration claimed that one death was natural. The cause of the second death was being examined, said Commissioner of Allahabad Division Devesh Chaturvedi.
Massive security paraphernalia had been put in place, involving around 30,000 police personnel. Army and administration's helicopters carried out constant surveillance of the Mela area throughout the day.
The day began early with the akharas taking the first dip around 6.15 a.m. — almost an hour after the scheduled start. The shahi snan went peacefully, barring a couple of boats of the Jal police getting overturned as enthusiastic naga sadhus of Juna akhara jumped over them to go beyond the barricaded point in water. However, nobody was injured.
While no VIPs are allowed on Mauni Amavasya, several vehicles with blue or red beacons could be seen moving even on those roads where motorcycles were also banned. "These were vehicles mostly from the akharas. Sometimes, we had to allow them," said a policeman at Kali Marg.
With the crowd getting thicker by the minute, the police changed traffic plans several times, throwing the devotees into massive confusion. The policemen said that they had to keep the crowd moving, even if it meant putting them through a couple of extra rounds to reach Sangam.
Describing the stampede-like situation on Kali Marg, Shubham — a vermillion seller — said: "Nobody dared to bend to retrieve their slippers, lest they might have suffocated." Abandoned slippers could be seen in hundreds on the Parade Road, Kali Marg, Triveni Marg and even near Sangam.
While the devotees did not seem to mind losing their slippers, it was the apprehension of getting separated from their family members which made them adopt various ways to prevent it. The most popular method was having a flag for a group. A piece of cloth, towels, saris, dhotis, vests, gamchchas, polythene bags and even an utensil pinned to a piece of bamboo —- anything could qualify as a flag. Other methods to prevent separation included tying each other with a rope in a series and women holding each other's saris or shawls.
However, whether it helped was a different matter. The total number of people who had approached the lost and found camps since last evening had crossed 30,000 by afternoon. The only announcements from the public address systems were that of people having separated from their family members.
For some, the entire affair seemed to have been a culture shock. Gautam Tiwari of Sangam Vihar in New Delhi asked: "Is there a place, where I can keep my luggage, like a cloak room? Can I get some conveyance to reach Sangam?" Having lost his way on Parade Road, just before Triveni Bandh, and tired of carrying all the luggage, he soon realised his questions were pointless.
Before him were droves of villagers carrying their belongings in plastic gunny bags, air bags, jholas, or simply gathris (cloth sacks). These sacks not only contained winter clothing and blankets, but also utensils, as they knew they may have to spend the night in the open and cook their own food.
There were others for whom Mela was also fun. For instance, Neha Gupta, in her 30s, from Lucknow, who had come along with her mother and grandmother, would have been considered foolhardy had they left home without having worked out the logistics as to where would they stay. "There is no fear. We have been living in the open since yesterday. We are carrying our belongings and had brought some food along," she says, her mother and aunt nodding in unison.