Procession kicks off arrival of akharas

The royal procession, or peshwai, here on Tuesday marked the beginning of the arrival of akharas (religious Hindu sects) at the Mela area for Kumbh 2013.

Juna akhara, which is the biggest among the 13 akharas, was the first one to enter the arena amid a din of drummers, conches and band parties. The Naga sadhus led the procession, followed by other saints, including Mahamandaleshwars (religious scholars).

Juna akhara was followed by Avahan and Agni akharas. During Kumbh, Avahan and Agni accompany the Juna akhara in all the major rituals, including peshwai and shahi snan (royal bathing days). The Mela will formally begin on January 14 with shahi snan (royal bathing), in which the akharas take the lead. The two other shahi snan days will be on February 10 (Mauni Amavasya) and February 15 (Basant Panchami).

The 10 remaining akharas will formally enter the Mela area on different dates. The akharas have been given 75 bighas in the Mela area to set up their camps, which will see various ritualistic activities and discussions related to issues of religion.

The nearly kilometre-long procession of the three akharas started around noon from Mauj Giri, the makeshift camp near Boat Club along the Yamuna, where the saints of Juna akhara had been staying, and the formal entry took place around 5 pm.

The Mela administration officials and a heavy posse of policemen escorted the procession that comprised elephants, camels, four-wheelers, motorcycles, tractors and those marching on foot. The police had also blocked several roads along the procession route to prevent any untoward incident.

The saints' procession was escorted by a Naga sadhu riding a horse, followed by nearly another dozen Naga sanyasis. They were followed by saints sitting atop elephants and camels.

All the mahamandaleshwars were seated on silver thrones, mounted on decorated tractors. Awadheshanand of Juna akhara told mediapersons: "This is a rare spectacle. The Naga and other sadhus, who usually lead anonymous lives in desolate and far-off places, come to this holy place giving a rare opportunity of darshan for the common man. This is also a great symbol of the traditional Sanatan Dharma."

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