(Eds: Incorporating additional details, quote of UP minister) Allahabad, Feb 10 (PTI) The chill prevailing in the atmosphere in and around Sangam here failed to dampen the spirit of around 1.25 crore people hailing from different walks of life, who gathered on Sunday morning to participate in the third shahi snaan held at the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.

Even before the break of dawn, scores of people had taken the dip with their friends and family. As a bright sunny day progressed, the number of devotees and enthusiasts went up.

“Around 1.25 crore people have taken dip on the occasion of Basant Panchami. The number is likely to go up further. Close to 50 lakh devotees had already taken dip before sunrise,” Kumbh Mela Adhikari Vijay Kiran Anand told PTI.

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

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 around the Sangam area as devotees from different walks of life poured in and around the bathing ghats.

According to Kumbh Mela administration, till February 9, as many as 14.94 crore devotees have already visited the place.

However, UP Cabinet minister and leader of SBSP (Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party) 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 to the Kumbh and departing from it?” Rajbhar told reporters.

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

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.

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

Kumbh Mela police this time used gas balloons as an 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 snaans were held on Makar Sankranti on January 15 and Mauni Amawasya on February 4.

Allahabad Mayor Abhilasha Gupta Nandi told PTI, “Basant Panchami is the third and the last shaahi snaan of the Kumbh. By taking three dips on this day, a devotee gets the blessings of Ganga, 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.

Hours before sunrise, lakhs of devotees had already taken dip in Sangam on Basant Panchami the third and final shahi snaan during the Kumbh. Many were seen carrying the holy water of Ganga, a sense of satisfaction reflected on their faces.

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 ample amount of time to reach home. The crowd was relatively less and hence there were no problems,” he said.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.