Around 18 lakh pilgrims from different parts of the country, and neighbouring Bangladesh and Nepal took holy dip at the confluence of the sacred Ganga and the Bay of Bengal here on the occasion of Makar Sankranti on Wednesday (January 15).
Over 30 lakh people have gathered here for the pilgrimage, breaking all previous records, a senior official of the state government said.
“Till 8 am, around 18 lakh people have taken dips in the holy waters. Several lakhs are waiting,” he said.
Every year on Makar Sankranti, lakhs of Hindus flock the Sagar Island in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district to take the holy dip and offer prayers at the Kapil Muni temple.
“Last year, we had a record number of 20 lakh pilgrims visiting the island. This year, that record has been broken as we have witnessed over 30 lakh pilgrims arriving. It was peaceful and the pilgrims have also appreciated our arrangements,” the official said.
Security has been beefed up in the island, around 100 km from Kolkata, and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is monitoring the situation, officials said.
Besides deploying senior officers, around 10,000 police personnel and civic volunteers have been posted for the gathering — the Ganga Sagar Mela.
Security officials are also keeping a watch on the waters and patrolling is being done, they said.
Drones and around 1,000 CCTV cameras are being used. Several watch towers have also been set up.
The state government, for the first time this year, is using an air ambulance at the Sagar Island.
Pilgrims also took dips at several ghats in other parts of West Bengal, including Kolkata and Howrah.
Amid tight security, thousands of people 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 marks the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days. It 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.
Hindus believe that taking dip at the Ganga Sagar, the confluence of the sacred river and the sea, will help one achieve “moksha” or salvation.