Prayagraj: It is the largest spiritual, cultural and religious congregation of its kind and attracts crores of devotees from India and abroad at the Sangam - the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and the mythical Saraswati. The historic city of Praygaraj, which was recently renamed from Allahabad, is witnessing the coming together of saints, seers and devotees in numbers that can blind the human eye.
Everywhere in the city, from its by-lanes to the bathing ghats, all one can see is devout believers headed in one direction. Upon arriving in the city, the first sights are those of folks arriving from the rural regions of the country. Their sheer belief in the faith they practise resonates from their eyes like vapour arising from a snow-clad mountain in the morning sky, lulling the environment of the city in a spiritual mood.
As you walk down the road that leads to the Sangam, you will encounter thousands of people, wearing different costumes, talking in different languages and chanting prayers as they walk. The city has itself been decorated to welcome the visitors.
Paintings, depicting scenes from ancient Indian scriptures, adorn the walls along the roads and the underpasses. And then there are elements of the great Indian circus that evoke curiosity among the visitors. Jaadugars displaying their myriad tricks, astrologers predicting the future to a gathering and medicine sellers attracting customers by enthusiastically speaking into their microphones, are the sights that keep one company in the long walk to the river bank.
As the river makes its appearance in the distant horizon, numerous sadhus and mystics, in their myriad avatars, are seen in their respective tents. They have all gathered at the banks of the river and these holy men display their unusual practices in full glory.
Seated at one of the tents near the pontoon bridges that lead the visitors to Sangam, for example, is a holy man showing off his nearly three-metre long moustache, which he claims to have grown over a decade. Dozens of devotees throng his tent. Some seek photographs and selfies.
Barely a few steps away from him is "Selfie Baba", clad in a spiritual attire and equipped with a selfie stick attached to a smartphone. His appearance, in his own words, signifies the meeting of mythology and technology.
Along the way to the Sangam, several temples make their appearances, with a distinct 'bhajan' playing in each of them. The visitors are offered 'prasad' at several of them, before they finally reach the destination.
The very sight of Sangam is refreshing; its water clean, for a change, and despite the huge crowd, it somehow seems to accommodate all. For safety, personnel have been deployed on the bathing ghats and ropes demarcting the bathing areas can be seen. The water level in most permissible areas is mild and there is a rope for visitors to hold on to while they take the holy dip.
It's a sight worth seeing - and an experience worth living. All tensions that inflict the human mind seem to lose their relevance the moment one goes full-body-down under the holy water, which, according to the legends, opens the doors to heaven. The icy-cold water sends jitters through the nerves but its impact is felt only for a few seconds. By the time one rises out, both the sensation of the chilly winter and the cold water is gone.
Opening one's eyes after the holy dip introduces one to a world slightly different than the one before. The picture is more clear, the sounds more vibrant, and the mind so peaceful: call it the impact of the churlish chidings of the winter's wind or a divine force at play but there is surely something extraordinary that the devout undergo after the holy dip.
The chants of "Har Har Mahadev" and "Har Har Gange" resonate in the air as one steps out and offers a prayer to the Sun god.
It is worth noting that the holy dip is symbolical of a new beginning: the devotees seek forgiveness for their errors and make a fresh start after it.
How to reach: UPSRTC runs regular buses from Delhi to Prayagraj; the Indian Railways is also running a number of special trains from several parts of the country.
Where to stay: A slew of temporary tent cities have cropped up in the city, in addition to several hotels that are already there.