People wait for a ferry at a Kolkata ghat after taking dip in the Ganga on Makar Sankranti on Wednesday. (PTI)
More than 40 lakh pilgrims from all across the country and abroad took the holy dip in Gangasagar on the occasion of Makar Sankranti on Wednesday. Makar Sankranti marks the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days.
A district official of South 24 Parganas said, “This year, we were expecting 40 lakh pilgrims during Makar Sankranti. However, the number crossed the 40-lakh mark. Everything took place in a very peaceful manner.”
Since the Kumbh Mela is not scheduled this year, the district administration had a presumption that there would be a large inflow of pilgrims at Gangasagar mela this year. That is why there was unprecedented security arrangements that included more than 5,000 police personnel, 250 drones, over 1,000 CCTV cameras, one lakh QR code-based wrist bands and a mega control room in the centre of the island coordinating the entire network.
The district administration has distributed the QR code-based wrist bands to senior people and children to track them down in case they go missing. A real-time crowd monitoring system was also put in place.
The state government, for the first time this year, deployed an air ambulance at the Sagar Island. As part of security measures, the Coast Guard also placed hovercraft, high-speed patrol vessels and interceptor boats along the coastline.
Located about 150 km from Kolkata in the South 24 Parganas district, Sagar Island hosts Gangasagar mela every year during Makar Sankranti. This year, the mela started from January 7 and will continue till January 17. The most auspicious period for the holy dip or ‘’shahi snan’’ started at 12.24 am on Wednesday.
Thousands of people also took holy dips at Babughat, Doi ghat, Baje Kadamtala Ghat, Saradamani Ghat, Ratanbabur Ghat, Bagbazar Ghat and Kumartuli Ghat, all on the banks of the Hooghly river in Kolkata, officials said.
The picture was similar on the other bank of the river in Howrah where many took dips at Telkal Ghat, Shibpur Ghat and Ramkrishnapur Ghat, they said.
In the districts as well, thousands of people took dips at sunrise in different rivers and waterbodies. Makar Sankranti is known by various names in different parts of the country and in West Bengal it is celebrated as Poush Sankranti, after the Bengali month Poush.