Around 10-12 lakh devotees have taken a holy dip in the Ganga on the occasion of Makar Sankranti in this West Bengal island considered auspicious by Hindus, a minister said.
“Between 10 to 12 lakh pilgrims congregated at Gangasagar this time. This is a record number in the last few years. The holy dip will continue till tomorrow (Thursday),” Sundarbans Development Minister Manturam Pakhira said.
“Pilgrims have come from all over the country… from 22-23 states. A substantial number of foreigners are also here,” he said.
“Not a single untoward incident has taken place so far,” Pakhira said.
Two people died of heart attack in the fair premises at the confluence of the river with the Bay of Bengal, known as Gangasagar.
Braving biting cold and chilly winds, devotees plunged into the water for the dip from the early hours of Tuesday. The ritual peaked at 7.04 p.m. the same day when the “Amrit Yog” (auspicious period) started.
According to religious leaders, it is after a gap of 65 years that the pious Makar Sankranti dip at Gangasagar happened during the evening. The Gangasagar Mela is considered second only to the Kumbh Mela.
Over 6,000 police personnel, including 600 policewomen, have been deployed to ensure no untoward incident takes place.
Border Security Force personnel are keeping strict vigil while hovercraft of the Indian Navy have been kept ready for any emergency.
The state government has also introduced helicopter services for pilgrims this year.
Sagar Island, about 150 km from Kolkata, in South 24 Parganas, sees a massive gathering of people every Makar Sankranti, celebrated each year Jan 14. Offerings of coconuts are made at the Kapil Muni temple here.
Devotees believe that a single dip in the sacred water at this time washes off the sins of a lifetime.