Lakhs of pilgrims take dip at Sangam; one killed in fire

Lakhs of pilgrims take dip at Sangam; one killed in fire

A sea of pilgrims converged at Sangam for a holy dip today on the occasion of Basant Panchami joined by ascetics belonging to various sects for their third and last "Shahi Snan" of Maha Kumbh, where a sadhu was killed in a fire in the wee hours.

Undeterred by the overcast weather and brief spells of showers, people turned out in large numbers to take the holy dip in the Sangam – the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati.

The massive security arrangements and vehicular restrictions forced people to walk several miles to reach their chosen bathing "ghats". The Sangam was abuzz with activity since the crack of dawn with Akharas of Naga Sadhus marching in processions for their last royal bath.

Although there were familiar sights of naked, ash-smeared ascetics who wore matted hair and garlands of marigold and "rudraksh" beads and carried swords and spears, musical bands playing devotional tunes were conspicuous by their absence.

A decision was taken by the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad two days ago to abstain from any type of ostentation in the last "Shahi Snan" in a gesture aimed at condoling the death of 36 pilgrims in a stampede that took place at a railway station here on the previous "Shahi Snan" of Mauni Amavasya on February 10.

Elaborate security arrangements are in place at the sprawling Kumbh Mela area with 25,000 personnel including those of police and paramilitary forces pressed into service to ensure that the last major bathing festival of the congregation goes off peacefully.

Seventy special trains will be run from today till Sunday in addition to the regular ones, to ensure smooth exit of pilgrims from the city after their holy dip. The Uttar Pradesh roadways is also plying an additional fleet of 6,000 buses to help clear the rush by road.

Entry of heavy vehicles into the city has been suspended since yesterday morning and the restrictions are likely to remain in place till tomorrow evening. A fire broke out in Sector 4 of the Kumbh Mela area early this morning, leaving a Sadhu dead and two others injured.

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