Pilgrims from across the world will arrive in Prayagraj on Tuesday as the Kumbh Mela begins amid a heady mix of spirituality, politics and tourism. During the eight-week festival at Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh, authorities expect up to 150 million people, including a million foreign visitors, to bathe at the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna, and a mythical third river, the Saraswati, during next 45 days.
Union minister Smriti Irani was one of the first VIP pilgrims at the site and also tweeted a picture of her holy dip. Hindus believe that bathing in the waters of the Ganga absolves people of sins and bathing at the time of the Kumbh Mela brings salvation from the cycle of life and death.
Today, millions of pilgrims, plunged themselves into the cold waters during the first Shahi Snan, or Royal Bath, that began at around 4am. Authorities have set up temporary bridges, 600 mass kitchens and more than 100,000 portable toilets in a pop-up city at the confluence of the rivers, which is known as the sangam.
This is considered to be the world’s largest peaceful gathering, where devotees visits from all over the world. There will be magnificent processions of seers and their disciples, and members of various ‘akharas’ to take part in the ritual of ‘shahi snan’, also known as ‘rajyogi snan’, at the start of Kumbh.
‘Shahi snan’ is the central highlight of the Kumbh Mela and the most important part of the celebration. It is only after the completion of ‘shahi snan’ that people are allowed to take the holy dip. The auspicious bathing days of the 2019 Kumbh Mela are Makar Sankranti (January 15), Paush Poornima (January 21), Mauni Amawasya (February 4), Basant Panchami (February 10), Maghi Poornima (February 19) and Mahashivratri (March 4).
Around 2,000 tents, 15 crore makeshift toilets have been set up and over 25,000 sweepers were deployed to keep the area clean. These amenities have been set up at a dedicated tent city on the plains of the Yamuna and the Ganga to accommodate the devotees. These tents have been equipped with all the modern facilities, similar to that of a five-star hotel.