Allahabad, Feb.10 (ANI): Thousands of Hindu pilgrims and holy men took a holy dip in the River Ganges on Sunday, which is one of the most auspicious occasions at the religious Kumbh festival.
Devotees and ascetics poured in since the early hours of morning to descend into the Ganges on the occasion of the 'Mouni Amavasya'-believed to be the day when the universe was created.
The bathing started in the northern Allahabad city at dawn and saw batch after batch of holy men and pilgrims making their way to the river banks for a 'Shahi Snan' (Royal Bath).
Devotees observe complete silence which is believed to control senses and helps engage into the service of Lord Vishnu, the supreme Hindu god.
Sunday's holy dip marked the second 'Shahi Snan' of sadhus belonging to various 'Akharas'
According to a rough estimate by officials, the number of people to have taken a dip by the crack of dawn appeared to be "not less than 20 lakhs" and the final turnout may exceed the projected estimate of three crore.
Devotees started arriving at the bathing 'ghats' along the banks of the Ganga since last night itself as the special celestial configuration which makes 'Mauni Amavasya' auspicious has been in place since yesterday afternoon.
Tight security arrangements were in place with more than 15,000 security personnel drawn from central paramilitary forces like ITBP, CRPF, BSF and RAF besides the Uttar Pradesh Police and its Provincial Armed Constabulary and Anti Terrorist Squad keeping a close vigil.
The star attraction of the day remains 'Shahi Snan' of the 'Akharas' - orders of martial ascetics established by Adi Sankara - which proceeded, in turns, towards the holy river's confluence with Yamuna and mythical Saraswati in majestic processions.
There are altogether 13 'Akharas' belonging to various sects and each of them have been allotted specific time, ranging from 30 minutes to an hour, depending upon the size of their procession.
Once every 12 years, tens of millions of pilgrims stream to Allahabad from across India for the Maha Kumbh Mela at the point where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet with a third, mythical river.
Most of the devotees expressed their happiness at having taken part in the bathing ritual.
"We are all very happy. It felt as if the saints and ascetics have descended from heaven and come among us for this great ritual. We are feeling really good. All our tiredness and problems have gone away. The arrangements by the authorities have also been very good," said Savita.
The festival has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says that Lord Vishnu wrested from demons a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality.
In a 12-day fight for possession, four drops fell on earth, in the cities of Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Every three years a Kumbh Mela is held at one of these spots, with the festival at Allahabad the holiest of them all.
More than 2,000 years old, the festival is a meeting point for the Hindu sadhus, some who live in forests or Himalayan caves, and who belong to dozens of inter-related congregations.
To cope with the flow of people, authorities in Uttar Pradesh have installed 35,000 toilets, laid 550 kilometres (340 miles) of water pipes and 155 kilometres (95 miles) of temporary roads at the riverbank site. (ANI)