Allahabad, Feb 10 (PTI) The chill in the atmosphere in and around the Sangam here failed to dampen the spirit of around 1.5 crore people who gathered Sunday for the third ‘shahi snan’ at the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.

Even before the dawn broke, scores of people hailing from different walks of life had taken the dip with their friends and family. As a bright sunny day progressed, the number of devotees and enthusiasts taking dip went up.

“Around 1.5 crore people have taken dip on the occasion of Basant Panchami. Close to 50 lakh devotees had taken dip before the sunrise,” Kumbh Mela Adhikari Vijay Kiran Anand told PTI.

He also said all ‘akharas’ have completed the shahi snan (royal bath).

With Sunday’s figures, the total number of pilgrims taking the holy dip during the Kumbh this year (up to February 10) has touched 16.44 crore, officials said.

The continuous cold breeze sweeping the mela area could not deter the devotees from taking the dip in Sangam. They chanted devotional hymns eulogizing various gods and goddesses. Chants of Har Har Gangey’ and Jai Ganga Maiyya’ filled the air as devotees poured in and around the bathing ghats.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has expressed his gratitude to all akharas and saints on the successful conduct of three shahi snans and a total of four snans during the ongoing Kumbh.

He congratulated all the officers of the Team Kumbh for their hard work in the organisation of the Kumbh, a senior UP government official said.

However, UP Cabinet minister and leader of Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) Om Prakash Rajbhar questioned the statistics of the pilgrims turning up at the mega event.

“On what basis are they (government) claiming that around 15 crore people have visited the Kumbh Mela? Can they tell which route has been opted by the devotees and pilgrims, while arriving at the Kumbh and departing from it?” Rajbhar told reporters.

The entire Kumbh Mela area wore an illuminated look (before sunrise), and devotees approaching the Sangam area through Kali Marg were mesmerized by the LED lighting.

Some enthusiasts stopped to click selfies, with an illuminated mela area in the background. Most of the devotees could be seen carrying water of river Ganga in bottles after finishing the ritual bath.

As the number of visitors started going up, senior police officials were heard issuing instructions to the devotees to take a specific exit routes, and finish the bathing formality, so that other devotees could also take the holy dip.

The Kumbh Mela police used gas balloons as indicator to the public thronging the mela area to locate the lost-and-found centres run by it.

Choppers were also used for aerial monitoring of the Kumbh mela area.

The mela commenced on January 15 on Makar Sankranti, the first bathing day, and the Mahashivratri on March 4 will mark its last bathing day.

Prior to Basant Panchami, shahi snans were held on Makar Sankranti on January 15 and Mauni Amawasya on February 4.

Allahabad Mayor Abhilasha Gupta Nandi said, “Basant Panchami is the third and the last shahi snan of the Kumbh. By taking three dips on this day, a devotee gets the blessings of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers. Hence, it holds tremendous significance for devotees.” The festival of Basant Panchami heralds the arrival of spring and is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati.

Even before 2 am, a number of devotees were seen taking the exit route from the Mela area, and searching for a mode of transport to reach their respective destinations.

It was 1.45 am, and Rakesh Kumar, a resident of Banda, was heading home.

“The main reason to take the (holy) dip early was that I will get time to reach home. The crowd was relatively less and hence there were no problems,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the afternoon, fire broke out in sector-14, and one person sustained minor burn injuries. “The fire was controlled within 15 minutes, and the person was administered first aid, additional mela officer, Dilip Kumar Trigunayat said.

Till 3.00 pm, more than 1.50 crore pilgrims had taken a dip at 40 ghats, officials said. Amidst playing of various musical instruments, and chanting of ‘Har Har Mahadev’ the Akharas participated in the shahi snan.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.