Makar Sankranti 2019: Kumbh Mela devotees take a dip at the Triveni Sangam (AFP)
Lakhs of devotees from across the country, who have thronged for the Kumbh mela in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj, took a holy dip today at Sangam Ghat on the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankranti. Makar Sankranti, which falls on January 14, marks the end of the month and the beginning of longer days. The day is dedicated to Lord Surya and marks the sun's transit into Makara. More than a lakh devotees offered prayers to Akshay Vat, a sacred fig tree at Prayagraj, which is mentioned in Hindu mythology, according to news agency ANI.
To maintain law and order, the Uttar Pradesh government has tightened security and local police are monitoring regions along the River Ganga and its tributaries, according to ANI. Movement of vehicles has also been restricted in Prayagraj, formerly known as Allahabad, due to the large number of tourists.
"As per the order by the Director General of Police (DGP) to all the senior police officials in all the districts, it has been instructed to ensure that any sort of illegal industrial activity or waste should not be discharged into the Ganges and its tributaries including the Yamuna," a top Uttar Pradesh police officer had said on January 10, quoted by ANI.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated across the country on the same date, but is known by different names in different states.
It is known in Andhra Pradesh as Pedda Panduga, in Tamil Nadu as Pongal, in Assam as Magh Bihu and Magha mela in parts of central and north India.
For Hindus, Makar Sankranti is the beginning of Uttarayana, another auspicious moment. Hindus therefore throng to Kumbh Mela to pray to the sun god and bathe in the holy rivers, every twelve years. This year marks one such occasion.
The Kumbh Mela, which begins today, will continue till March 3 at the Triveni Sangam, which is the holy confluence of the Rivers Ganga, Saraswati and Yamuna.
The Uttar Pradesh government has recognised this year's Kumbh Mela with the distinction of being the world's largest temporary city, with UNESCO including the Kumbh in the list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity."
The Uttar Pradesh government allotted Rs 4,300 crore for creating infrastructure necessary to conduct the 2019 Kumbh Mela, a state minister had said.
Another aspect unique to this year's Kumbh and Makar Sankranti is the participation of the 'Kinner Akhada' or transgender akhada in the mela festivities.
Today, the Kinner Akhada will take part in the 'Shahi Snan' or dip in holy water as a part of Makar Sankranti celebrations, according to ANI.
"For me, it is a wonderful situation to come to this divine Prayagraj Kumbh. For me, we are one of the most conservative societies in the world where the acceptance of the third gender is remarkably outstanding. This is Akhada beyond sexuality," said Kinnar Akhada chief Mahamandaleshwar Laxmi Narayan Tripathi.