Prayagraj: The Kumbh Mela, which is celebrated four times over a course of 12 years, commenced today in Prayagraj on the occasion of Makar Sankranti which will is the first bathing day. Also Read - Sit Under Pipal Tree to Increase Oxygen Saturation: COVID Patients Told by Police in UP’s Prayagraj

Devotees braved the cold weather to take a dip in the icy water as they reached the Kumbh Nagari which witnessed a huge rush of people from far-away lands as early as 4 in the morning. Also Read - Real Hero: Ambulance Driver in Prayagraj Skips Roza to Ferry Dead Bodies For Free

Sadhus of 13 akharas (seven Shaiva, three Vaishnava, two Udasina, and one Sikh) who have traditionally participated in the Kumbh Mela, the largest congregation in the world, were the first to take the holy bath known as ‘Shahi Snan’. Also Read - COVID-19: Consider Complete Lockdown in Worst-Affected Districts, Allahabad HC Tells UP Govt

They marched majestically, dancing and humming devotional songs, all the way to the confluence.

“Me and my family came around 4:30 am thinking that it will be too crowded later.

“Not that it is any less crowded now. Also, we didn’t want to miss the march of various akharas that will be taking part at the Shahi Snan ritual,” said 35-year-old Anshuman, who had just taken the holy dip.

The order in which the holy dip is performed by various akharas is pre-determined.

It started with Mahanirvani along with the Atal akhara, the Niranjani along with the Ananada Akhara, and the Juna along with the Avahana and Agni akharas.

They are followed by Nirvani akhara, Digambara akhara, Nirmohi akhara, Bada Udasin akhara, Naya Udasin akhara and lastly by the lone Sikh akhara called Nirmal akhara.

Attracting eye-balls of one and all, especially the foreigners, was the march of Naga sadhus, a martial order of ascetics who move about naked with ash smeared on their whole body.

“It is surreal. I had always heard about them. In fact, one of the reasons we wanted to come to the Kumbh was to see them in real as we are told that this is the only festival in which they arrive in numbers,” said Manuel Matthaus, who had come from Germany.

“Yes, I did plan to take the bath. But I guess the water now is too freezy for my linking. May be later in the evening,” he added, as his girlfriend was busy capturing the spectacle on her camera.

More than 12 crore people are expected to take part in the event – touted as the world’s biggest religious festival – over the next 50 days. The first ‘shahi snan’, which began at 5.30 am in the morning, will conclude at around 4.30 pm today.

Massive security arrangements with the deployment of police personnel, Paramilitary and Army officials have been put in place to ensure a safe and smooth conduct of the event. Besides, over 3,000 traffic personnel have also been deployed to monitor and control traffic. Traffic routes have been diverted for the people so that people coming to Kumbh don’t face any problem.

“This Kumbh will witness the use of innovative technologies for security,” state Director General of Police (DGP) OP Singh told PTI here on Monday, adding that a modern integrated command-and-control centre has been set up for 24-hour monitoring through 1,200 CCTV cameras.

“There will be real-time video analytics for crowd management, real-time detection and alert algorithm in overcrowding circumstances and detection of uni or bi-directional and wrong-way movements. The Trinetra app will be used for surveillance on terrorists, criminals and suspicious elements,” he said.

There would be round-the-clock monitoring of social media websites and in case of any problem, they could even be blocked, Singh said, adding that the Kumbh police stations had been integrated with the UP-100 emergency service.

He said the security arrangements would be three-tier — in the Kumbh mela region, in Prayagraj and in the adjacent districts.

“The whole region has been demarcated into nine zones and 20 sectors with the deployment of over 20,000 police personnel, 6,000 homeguards, 40 police stations, 58 outposts, 40 fire stations, 80 companies of central force and 20 companies of PAC,” the DGP added.

With a view to counter any terrorist activity, Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) commandoes, anti-sabotage commandoes with snipers, bomb disposal units, sniffer dog squads and intelligence units have also been pressed into service, Singh said.

Besides, three modern water control rooms have been set up, which have rescue boats, floating jetties, deep-water barricading and a reflective river-floating line, he said, adding that remote-operated lifebuoys were also made available.

As many as 40 fire stations have been set up in and around the venue and over 4,000 fire hydrants, 70 high-pressure water mist motorcycles and trolley-mounted high-pressure extinguishers will also be there in case of a fire, besides fire-fighting speedboats and the Bambi Bucket system for aerial fire-fighting from helicopters, in addition to the presence of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) teams, Singh said.

Over 500 cultural programmes will take place as a part of the Kumbh Mela, along with a laser show and display of India’s cultural and mythological heritage in forms of paintings, statues, and exhibits.

Kumbha Mela is one grand affair and has also been mentioned on the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The usual Kumbha Mela is held after every three years, whereas the Ardha Kumbha Mela is held after every six years in Prayag and Haridwar. However, Purna Kumbha Mela takes place after every 12 years in one of those four places, based on planetary movements.

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