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http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/thumb/msid-18014702,width-300,resizemode-4/14jankumbhak.jpgALLAHABAD: The Maha Kumbh began on Monday morning with lakhs of devotees as well as ascetics and religious leaders of various orders converging on the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical river Saraswati here for a holy dip on the occasion of Makar Sankranti.

The inaugural day of the two-month-long congregation, often described as the "greatest show on earth", was marked by the first "Shahi Snan" of 13 "akharas" wherein Naga Sadhus - a martial order of ascetics who move about either naked or scantily clad with matted hair and ash smeared bodies - marched to Sangam in processions with their leaders perched atop ornately decorated elephants, horses and chariots and musical bands in attendance in a unique blend of austerity and opulence.

The first to move out were Mahanirvani and Atal Akharas, followed by Niranjani and Anand and then Joona, Awahan and Agni.

They are to be followed by Nirvani Ani, Digambar Ani and Nirmohi and Naya Udasin, Bara Udasin and Nirmal akharas in the same order fixed during the British period following a violent clash among ascetics of different akharas at a kumbh congregation.

The akharas have been allotted fixed time, ranging from 30 minutes to about an hour depending upon the size of their respective procession, for bathing with routes for going to and returning from Sangam so separated as to ward off possibility of members of rival akharas coming in contact with each other.

The mela administration said it has made elaborate arrangements for devotees who would be flocking to the city over the next 55 days. In fact, around 10-15 lakh pilgrims are already living in Sangam city's sprawling quarters, day and night. Most of them are in tents, make-shift shelters or with sectoral groups called akharas that are administered by sadhus and mahants.

There are people from virtually every state, with those from rural areas of UP, MP, Gujarat and Maharashtra accounting for the largest numbers. The administration has received applications from more than 100 organizations seeking land to pitch more tents, and their numbers are growing.

Wide-eyed tourists as well as professionals from abroad could not stop gushing at the sights. "This is huge," said Nick Oza, a photo-journalist from Arizona. "I don't know from where to begin and where to end!"

A young student from Bangalore, Laxman Sitapathy, said this was his first visit to a Kumbh and the experience is yet to sink in. "I had only seen Kumbh pictures. This far exceeds my expectations."

Joginder from Ludhiana, Punjab, said signboards in the Sangam city should be in other languages as well. "When people from across the world are coming for this mega event, there should be signages in more languages. Just a handful of cops or guides are not enough."

The mela administration has divided the Sangam area spread over around 40 sq km into seven zones or including Parade, Sangam, Akhara, Eyeject bridge, North Jhunsi, South Jhunsi and Arail. A zonal police officer along with magistrate has been appointed in-charge of each zone.

However, a number of organizations which were allotted land in different sectors have complained to Mela officials that their tents were too far away from the Sangam ghats and they had to walk up to 3-4 km for a dip. The mela administration said it's helpless, claiming the entire land on the banks of Ganga and Yamuna has been allocated.

ADM, Kumbh Mela, Ashutosh Kumar Dwivedi told TOI, "The main Sangam ghat is spread across 3,500 feet, while other ghats like sector 13 (2,600 feet), sector 12 (2,000 feet), sector 10 (800 feet), sector 9 (600 feet) and sector 8 (450 feet) have been prepared for the convenience of pilgrims and devotees.

None of this, however, is dampening people's fervor. Narendra Nath from Junagarh, Gujarat, said, "I am here with my family and 14 neighbours for a dip. We got a temporary shelter near Triveni Road and we are happy to share this blissful experience with others."

Work in considerable patches is yet unfinished. Basic civic amenities like water pipe connection, electricity are yet to reach out to every part of the make-shift town. Officials say they expect things to be much smoother by the date of the next Shahi snaan.

IG, Allahabad zone, Alok Sharma said, "Elaborate arrangements are in place with police teams carrying out frisking at different points and streets leading to Sangam area. Traffic police authorities have been asked to divert traffic and implement restrictions at certain points to ease flow of pilgrims."

Source : http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Maha-Kumbh-begins-1-1-crore-pilgrims-may-take-dip-today/articleshow/18013934.cms



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