Allahabad: Amid blowing of conch shells, the biggest bathing day 'Mauni Amavasya' at the Maha Kumbh began early Sunday as millions of visitors walked to take a dip at the Sangam - the holy confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati.
With an estimated 20 million people in the Kumbh Mela premises, the auspicious day began with Naga sadhus (ascetics) leading the bathing, amid beating of drums and chanting of Sanskrit hymns.
Security forces are ready for the surge of devotees in the 58 square-kilometre premises of the once-in-12-years Maha Kumbh, the biggest gathering of people anywhere in the world.
Mounted policemen, central paramilitary forces and the Rapid Action Force (RAF) stepped up vigil as people from all over the country and abroad walked towards the Sangam nose and the other 21 ghats to dunk themselves.
Sarghu, an elderly woman from Nepal, who had come to the Kumbh with four other village women, said the experience of taking a dip was an "awesome one" and added that she had "no words to express the experience".
"We had heard a lot about Kumbh but seeing it is believing it," she mused, as she headed for another dip, which was politely denied by the volunteers and the policemen present at the bathing ghats.
Mauni Amavasya bathing is considered to be the biggest of the seven royal bathing during the 55-day religious congregation that started Jan 14 and ends March 10 on Maha Shivratri.
All the 22 ghats on the banks of the Sangam are crowded as officials put the estimates at around 20 million people in the premises, adding that the floating population in the city was around 40 million.
"All the entry points had been sealed by Saturday night to avoid further overcrowding," an official told IANS and informed that more and more people were being asked to move out after bathing.
Eighty-eight parking slots have been created in the district boundaries and 11 in the mela premises for the vehicles.
Security forces on top of 68 watch towers and 65 CCTV cameras are keeping a vigil on the crowd, R.K.S. Rathore, senior superintendent of police (SSP), Kumbh told IANS.
Other than this, 126 fixed barriers and 822 mobile barriers have been set up to ensure smooth flow of the crowds, said Ajay Kumar, assistant superintendent of police (traffics).
Aerial surveys by choppers was being done to ensure that the crowd management and flow was being maintained.
Public address systems are asking people to leave the ghats after bathing to avoid rush. The time to take a dip in the rivers has also been reduced to ensure that ghats were being "eased out in time".
ASP Ganganath Tripathi, overseeing security arrangements said everything was peaceful. With another three hours to go for the bathing 'mahoorat', officials said, they hoped that the crowds will peter out soon.
Ian Bridget, a visitor from Holland says he was in Kumbh just to "be part of history." "It is just amazing, the crowds, the faith, the hope, crowd management, the bevy of cultural sightings...its simply amazing," he said.
Aradhna Jaiswal, one of the thousands who have come from abroad is equally delighted. Having come from Texas with his daughter and a three-year-old grandson, she says she feels connected with the Ganga even though she left India to settle for a US citizenship way back in the 1970s.
"It's almost that Ganga Ma beckons me and I have come to be part of this magnificent event," she chuckles in between clicking pictures on her camera.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)