Gangasagar Mela is one of the popular pilgrimage destinations in West Bengal
. The Ganga River
, which has its source in Gangotri River
in the snow covered Himalaya Mountain
, it descends down the mountains and reach Haridwar
, and flows through ancient pilgrimage site like Panch Prayag
, and drains into Bay of Bengal
. The island is large - with an area of around 300 kmý. It has 43 villages and a population of over 160,000. Gangasagar Mela and pilgrimage is the second largest fair in India, after Kumbha Mela
. The latter is of course held after every four years, at alternate locations in central, north and central west India. But Gangasagar Mela is held annually about 40 km from Diamond Harbour
. This makes it distinctive.
Thousands of Hindu devotees gather every year on the day of Makara Sankranti
to take a dip in the holy Ganges and offer Puja
in the Kapil Muni Temple.
The origins of Kapila
Muni go back to antiquity. It went under the sea millennium ago followed by the many others built in its place, which subsequently was also swallowed, by the advancing sea. The current structure is a recent addition which houses a stone block that is representation of Kapila Muni. There are also images of Sita
, Lord Rama
The village priests leading the horde of devotees chant "sab teerth baar baar, Ganga Sagar ek bar" which means "all the holy places, but a pilgrimage to Ganga Sagar equals them all". A dip in the holy water is considered to redeem all wrongs.
Legends of Gangasagar Mela
It is often said that before joining the sea, Ganga River watered the human remains of King Sagar`s 6000 sons freeing their souls once and forever. Kapila Muni, standing on Sagar Island actually condoned the sins of sons of King Sagar who had dared to stop the horse blessed at Lord Indra
`s Aswamedha Yagna and tied it to a post near his temple. It is actually this legend which helps to attract tourists to this little island, in the remote southern part of West Bengal.
Attraction of Gangasagar Mela
The Gangasagar Mela happens to the largest annual assemblage of devotees in India. The massiveness of the event can be assessed from the fact that over a million pilgrim come from far off places, and from across the country.
The entire journey is tough one, but hardships involved in travelling do not deter even the weak and vulnerable. The hordes of pilgrims pour in throughout the night and day to occupy a space on the sandy beach. People move to the sound of bells, blowing conch shells and chanting prayers. Devotional songs can also be heard from far and near. An array of shops and stores stuffed with heaps of vermilion, rudraksha
, colourful beads, conch shells
line the pathways.
Gangasagar Mela is not complete without the sight of Naga Sadhus
(naked ascetics or sadhus) who sit naked in the little huts near the temple area enjoying a chillum of ganja. They often become the target of the tourist`s camera!
A dip in the ocean, where the Ganga drains into the sea is considered to be of great religious significance particularly on the Makara Sankranti day when the sun makes a transition to Capricorn from Sagittarius and this town becomes home to vast fairs, drawing visitors and recluses from all over the state. There is a common belief among the locals that the girls who take the holy dip get handsome grooms and the boys get beautiful brides. After the rituals, they head towards the Kapilmuni Temple situated nearby, to worship the deity as a mark of respect.
A number of marriages are solemnized on the beach during the day. Also, many local girls get married to the sea. This will ensure that theoretically they never become widows, even if their men folk, braving the rough sea and tiger infested jungle for a living, die.
The Ganga Sagar Mela continues to throb with life, with the energy of millions of pilgrims. The pilgrimage may be extremely tough, but the pilgrims know that the visit will purify their souls. The visit fulfils their lifelong desire and often one can see tears of joy rolling down their cheeks. That is the magic of religion.
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