Lakhs of pilgrims across the country have started arriving at the Sagar Island in West Bengal's South 24 Parganas district to take a holy dip at Gangasagar on the occasion of 'Makar Sankranti', an official said on Saturday.
Even though the auspicious hours for the holy dip will begin around 6.50 pm on Saturday, thousands of devotees took a dip at the confluence of the Hooghly river and the Bay of Bengal in the morning, braving the cold weather condition and offered prayers at the Kapil Muni Ashram, he said.
Over 31 lakh pilgrims have arrived at the Gangasagar Mela, considered the biggest religious congregation after the Kumbh Mela, till Friday evening since January 5. "After I took a dip in the Ganga (Hooghly river), all my sins have been washed away," said Ram Swaran, a resident of Jharkhand's Chaibasa, standing in waist-deep water, as he flashed the ‘V’ sign. Some devotees were seen singing and dancing for being able to make it to the Gangasagar Mela at the Sagar Island, around 100 km from Kolkata.
"There is a saying ‘shob teertha baar baar, Gangasagar ekbar’ (you can visit other pilgrimages several times, but the Gangasagar only once). The visit to Gangasagar suffices for the hardships that pilgrims face while coming here. I feel energised after the dip," said Latika Chatterjee who came from West Bengal’s Howrah district. Meanwhile, personnel of the Coast Guard (ICG) and disaster management teams have stepped up vigil along the coastline, while the police and civil defence volunteers were deployed at the fair ground, he said.
Over 1,000 CCTV cameras and 25 drones are deployed to monitor the entire fairground. Lakhs of pilgrims across the country gather at the Sagar Island for the annual event and the challenge for the South 24 Parganas district administration is to manage the people while crossing the Muriganga river to reach the Gangasagar safely and vice versa, the official said.
“Vessel and bus services to the Sagar Island was halted for around three-four hours in the morning due to dense fog, and now everything is normal,” the district official said. The state government has taken all measures, including setting up of shelters at the island, for those coming to the Gangasagar Mela, and the administration is expecting a huge footfall.
Sundarbans Development Minister Bankim Hazra was at the fairground to supervise arrangements along with the state officials.