PRAYAGRAJ, Jan 14 (HS): On Friday, with the first official bathing of Makar Sankranti at the Sangam ghats in Prayagraj kicked off the 47-day religious congregation Magh Mela-2022 in the shadow of Covid-19. According to Mela officials, over 6.5 lakh pilgrims took the holy dip by 8 p.m. The Magh Mela is a religious festival held annually in Prayagraj. Devotees, who began arriving in large numbers on Thursday, continued to arrive throughout the day on Friday, defying the winter chill and overcoming their fear of Covid-19. To ensure the smooth operation of the bathing, strict security measures were put in place. "The bathing went off without a hitch, and no untoward incidents were reported throughout the day," said Magh Mela adhikari (officer) Sheshmani Pandey.
Due to the huge rush of devotees, traffic diversions have been put in place at all Prayagraj district entry points. Despite efforts and repeated appeals to pilgrims to observe social distancing and wear facemasks to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the majority of visitors were observed violating the established norms. However, the lower-than-expected number of pilgrims this time around helped to alleviate the situation, as the usual scene of pilgrims taking the dip shoulder-to-shoulder at the bathing ghats was not commonly visible. The ghats were busy all day with pilgrims taking the dip and performing various rituals. According to Hindu tradition, the sun enters Capricorn on Makar Sankranti, signalling the start of its northward journey (uttarayan) and ushering in the auspicious period for Hindus.
After Mauni Amavasya, which falls on February 1 this year, Makar Sankranti bathing is the second most important snan during Magh Mela. The Magh Mela will conclude on March 1 with Maha Shivratri snan (bathing). The saints celebrated Makar Sankranti with special rituals in the camps. This time, however, announcements for adhering to Covid-19 protocols overtook the sounds of bhajan and kirtans (religious songs). Pilgrims were only allowed in after thermal scanning at the dozen entry points. A total of 65,000 free facemasks were also distributed to pilgrims. Commissioner Sanjay Goyal, district Magistrate Sanjay Kumar Khatri, and senior superintendent of police Ajay Kumar were all seen personally advising pilgrims to leave the ghats immediately after taking the dip to avoid crowding and to wear facemasks.
According to mela officials, 1.5 lakh people had taken the plunge as of 10.30 a.m. By 3 p.m., the number of pilgrims had risen even further, reaching around three lakh. By 4.30 p.m., over 5.5 lakh pilgrims had taken the holy dip, and by 8 p.m., over 6.5 lakh had done so, according to Mela officials. According to astrologers, the auspicious timing (muhurat) for bathing began on Friday evening, though people began taking baths at sunrise because Makar Sankranti is traditionally observed on January 14. "The dip mahurat begins at 8.34 p.m. on Friday." "However, the best time for the dip and rituals would be from sunrise to 12.34pm on Saturday," said Pt Diwakar Tripathi Purvanchali, director of Prayagraj's Utthan Jyotish Sansthan.
As a result, pilgrims are expected to take the dip until late at night and throughout the first half of Saturday, he added. Even before daybreak, thousands of devotees and pilgrims braved the chill to take a holy dip in the Sangam. However, as the sun rose, its warmth brought relief to pilgrims, and the crowds at the bathing ghats increased. Hundreds of pilgrims from Deoria, Ballia, Jaunpur, Sitapur, Ayodhya, and other districts sang devotional songs in the camps after midnight, accompanied by musical instruments such as harmoniums, cymbals, and chimtas. The first bathing of Magh Mela-2022 also marked the start of the month-long Kalpwas in the mela area for Dandi Swamis and those travelling from Mithila.
Nearly 20,000 Kalpwasis began their month-long regimen of meditation and religious discourses. The remaining Kalpwasis will begin their kalpwas on January 19 with Paush Purnima. In addition to Uttar Pradesh, devotees from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh are camping in the Magh Mela area for the month-long religious practise.