‘Sab tirath bar bar, Gangasagar ekbar’, that is, may we visit other holy places several times, but one must visit Gangasagar once in lifetime – with this in mind Hindu pilgrims from all over have reached the Ganga Sagar Island on the southern fringes of the Sundarbans delta for the annual Ganga Sagar Mela. Not only from India, or even from its neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bhutan or Bangladesh, or even Thailand for that matter, but pilgrims come from places as far off as the West Indies, Canada, Japan and Australia.
The confluence of the Ganga with the Bay of Bengal, a place called Sagar Sangam (or ‘concluence with the sea) is the place they all head for. The pilgrimage and fair is the second largest congregation of mankind after the holy Kumbha Mela. Here lakhs of people jostle for a holy dip during Makar Sankranti, the last day of the Bengali month of Poush, which fell on January 14 this year. This year, about 6 lakh people took the dip in the Ganga. Apart from the general pilgrims, the assemblage of sky-clad Naga Sadhus, smeared in ash, gives a unique identity to this festival.
This holy dip also takes place at other holy places like Allahabad (where the Kumbh Mela takes place) and Haridwar.
A Google Maps view of Sagar Island, showing the route from Kolkata
GooA Naga sadhu smeared in ash at the Ganga Sagar Mela
As per Hindu traditions, the sun enters the Tropic of Capricorn, known as Makar Rekha in Sanskrit, on the day of Makar Sankranti and hence the festival is termed ‘Makar Sankranti’.
Sankranti festival is celebrated all across India under various names,
like Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Makara Sankramana in Karnataka, Uttarayan in
Gujarat, Maghi in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, Lohri in Punjab,
Bhogali Bihu in Assam, Shishur Saenkraat in the Kashmir Valley, and
Khichdi in Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar.
Devotees from Rajasthan at Ganga Sagar
Large-scale security arrangements are made at the Ganga Sagar Mela every year. This year, Rs 42 crore has been spent by the governemnt of West Bengal on lighting the island. Security personnel and other staff in various units have been increased by 25 to 30 per cent. Over 5,000 security personnel are in place to secure the 100-acre fair ground. Policemen in motorboats are making rounds to ensure that no mishap occurs. A Coast Guard hovercraft is also on guard against any sea-borne attack.
Attempts have also been made to sensitise the pilgrims. A list of do’s and don'ts has been published by the South-24 Parganas district authority, which includes security suggestions.
- Stand in a queue at bus stands and launch ghats to travel to the Ganga Sagar Mela.
- Pay fare as per government-approved rates.
- Use identity card with name and address for children.
- Drink pure water from PHE-approved water supply lines and tanks.
- Use public toilet - keep the mela compound clean.
- Follow road number and signage in order to move properly.
- Residential shelters should be kept closed by collapsible gates.
- Kitchen chambers must be made within kitchen sheds.
- All ovens should be extinguished totally before closing the licensed hotels and temporary shops.
- Permission from the fire authority is required for all hotels and shops where gas oven will be used.
- Mobile sanitary toilets have been arranged for convenience.
- An ATM counter of State Bank of India is also available at the mela ground.
- Do not rush unnecessarily and do not get panicky.
- Do not believe in rumours.
- Travelling on the rooftops, footboards and backs of buses strictly prohibited.
- Do not take adulterated and rotten food.
- Do not use inflammable articles for the purpose of electrical points.
- Do not waste water.
- Cooking is not allowed in pilgrim sheds.
- Smoking is strictly prohibited within the sheds.
- No open fire is allowed at the mela ground.
- Do not touch any unclaimed bag, luggage, etc.; please bring it to the notice of the police officer on duty.
- Do not give money to unknown persons.
Devotees taking a holy dip
Help at hand
How to reach Ganga Sagar Mela: The South-24 Parganas district administration has also put up detailed instructions on the internet regarding how to reach Sagar Island. Bus, train and launch services are available.
- From Howrah and Sealdah stations – click here
- At Ganga Sagar Mela – click here
- New transport infrastructure, including new jetties, has also been set for the Ganga Sagar Mela.
NGOs, etc.: A list of NGOs and other voluntary organisations operating at the mela has also been put up on the internet by the administration.
Link to list of NGOs/voluntary organisations
Health help: In addition to the existing infrastructure on Sagar Island, 24-hour temporary hospitals have been set up at the Sagar Mela Ground, Kachuberia, Chemaguri, Narayanpur (Namkhana) and Lot 8 Point. Four first aid centres have been established at Chemaguri crossing, Natun Rastar More, Kulpi More and Namkhana railway station.
Click here for details
ISKCON food distribution camp
A new dimension has been added to the Ganga Sagar Mela from 2014 – it is
being broadcast live on radio for a worldwide audience. RSGB Island on
the Air – a UK-based amateur radio operating organisation that helps
amateur radio clubs to operate from islands all over the world – has
given its Island on the Air (IOTA) recognition to West Bengal Radio
Club, an amateur or ham radio club based in North-24 Parganas, to
broadcast the mela all over the world through ham radio technology. The
National Institute of Amateur Radio (NIAR) is helping the club in this
venture with equipment. Members of the amateur club are operating from
Sagar Island as well as various surrounding islands such as
Agnimari Char, Bhangaduni, Ghoramara, Mahisani and Suparbhanga.
For tourists going to Ganga Sagar, there are a lot of attractions in the Sundarbans which one can visit. And winter is the best time to visit the place. The attractions in Sagar Island are...
- Kapil Muni Temple at South Sagar
- Fairgrounds at South Sagar
- Sagar Marine Park at South Sagar
- Sagar Lighthouse and Port at Beguakhali
- Sushama Devi Chowdhurani Marine Biological Research Institute (SDMBRI) in Bamankhali
- Chimaguri Mudflat - the entry point to the mangrove forest from Sagar Island
- Windmills - the island gets its electricity from wind energy.
Worshipping at Ganga Sagar
The mythology of Kapil Muni
Kapil Muni was the son of Kardam Rishi and Devahooti. He was an avatar of Vishnu. Kardam Rishi also had nine daughters. After the birth of Kapil, Kardam Rishi went to forest for tapasya.
Once Kapil Muni was sitting in samadhi in his ashram, when Raja Sagar's 60,000 sons came in search of their father's yajna horse. They found it tied to a tree near him, so they thought he had stolen it. They started abusing him. Kapil Muni opened his eyes and all of them were burned to ashes.
Then Raja Sagar sent his grandson Anshumaan in search of his 60,000 sons. He traced his uncles' footsteps and arrived at Kapil Muni's ashram. He saw a mound of ashes near his ashram. He understood everything. He greeted Kapil Muni and came to know the fate of his uncles. He asked him as how he could give them mukti (emancipation). Kapil Muni suggested to him to bring Ganga on to the earth so that her water can give them mukti.
The Kapil Muni Temple at Sagardwip is the fourth constructed temple in
the island. The first was razed by a tornado and the next two were
destroyed by the sea. It was in 1961 that the chief minister of West
Bengal, BC Roy donated Rs.11,000 to construct the present temple, which
was completed in 1973.
Devotees throng the Kapil Muni Ashram on Sagar Island
An aerial view of Ganga Sagar Mela
Written by Anushtup Haldar for Team M3.tv