Gangasagar Fair -the second largest congregation of mankind
“Devi Sureswari Bhagabati Gange,.
Tribhubanatarini tarala tarange”
[“O Goddess Ganga, O goddess of the gods,
(You are) the Savior of the three worlds with your dancing waves”]
The murky water of the sacred river Ganga, flowing from the high Himalayas some 1500 kilometers away, goes down in a great flow into the sea (Bay of Bengal) in the southern part of Bengal creating several deltaic islands. Sagar island, some 150 km from the great city of Kolkata, is considered by millions of Hindus as the spot where the mighty Ganga meets the sea. The island is large — with an area of around 300 sq km. It has 43 villages and a population of over 160,000.
The place is considered extremely holy by the Hindus.
The Hindu mythology associates the legend of the great sage Kapil Muni & the 60,000 sons of the great King Sagar with this island. It is said that the sons of the king Sagar insulted Kapil Muni as they mistook him as a thief of their sacrificial horse, & as a result the angry sage burnt them to ashes at this place.
Bhagiratha, the grandson of the king Sagara brought down the holy river Ganga from the Himalayas through the plains of northern India to this place where , at the touch of the holy water of Ganga the souls of the 60,000 sons of the king Sagar were liberated from the curse of Kapil Muni. According to the mythology , this incidence occurred on the holy Makar Sankranti day when the sun makes a transition to Capricorn from Sagittarius.
Millions of Hindus come to this place every year on the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankranti to take a holy dip at the confluence of Ganga & the Bay of Bengal & a great religious fair called Gangasagar fair or Gangasagar Mela is organized at this place.
The Mela is usually a three day affair.
Hindu devotees take holy dip at the auspicious time on Makar Sankranti day and
offer prayers to Lord Surya (Sun god). After taking a dip, devotees offer water to
Surya and it is believed that this washes the sins away.
After the rituals, pilgrims visit the KapilMuniTemple situated nearby & offer puja. The temple is run by the Ramanandi saints of the Hanuman Garhi of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.
The Gangasagar pilgrimage and fair is the second largest congregation of mankind after the holy Kumbha Mela.
This year (2011), the Makar Sankranti was on 15th of January. Over half a million pilgrims from across India and even abroad took a holy dip in the river Ganga at dawn, braving the icy cold water and a chilly wind. A large number of sages also took the holy dip accompanied by their disciples and prayed amid frequent shouts of “Kapil Muni ki Jai” (Victory to Kapil Muni)..
The fair ground on the sea beach is dotted with tents made for the pilgrims who stay there at night. The tents are made usually of a special type of reed called HOGLA, & they have straw in place of mattress!
Previously sanitation was a great problem as the pilgrims, majority of whom are villagers from several parts of interior India, used to use the fair ground as toilets! At present this menace is almost totally controlled.
Previously, fire hazards were also a great headache for the authority, as the pilgrims used to light fires to keep themselves warm in the biting cold. This menace is also controlled to a great extent.
The fair is a place where one can witness the REAL INDIA, as the rustic pilgrims from various parts of this great country carry the original flavors of their locality & ethnicity unspoilt by the Western influence.
To go to this place one has to start from Kolkata. From there one has to travel to either Lot 8 or Namkhana by bus/car, & then cross the river Ganga by ferry to reach either Kachuberia or Chemaguri in the Sagar island. From Kachuberia or Chemaguri one has to travel again on road to reach the fair spot.
For lodging one has several options like one or two hotels, some Dharamshalas (Hostels of sort) or the tents on the beach. Alternatively, one can take a launch from Kolkata or Raichak & stay in the launch itself.
Gangasagar fair is a lifetime experience.