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Hi-tech rein on pilgrims

Kumbakonam (Tamil Nadu), March 5: Hi-tech rubbed shoulders with tradition at the south’s Kumbh Mela, as officials went all out to prevent a repeat of the tragedy during the previous Mahamaham.

In 1992, 48 people had died in a stampede when chief minister Jayalalithaa and friend Sasikala came to the Mahamaham tank for a dip to wash away their sins during the once-in-12-years event.

As many as 21 shutter gates have been set up at the approaches to the tank, said deputy inspector-general of police K.C. Mahali. The Mahamaham tank can accommodate 75,000 people at a time and police can regulate the flow at the gates by monitoring the movement of pilgrims on screens at the control room, the police official said.

The latest technology, including a closed-circuit television surveillance system, has been installed to manage the flow of pilgrims, said central zone inspector-general S. George.

“Tomorrow being the high point of the festival, we expect about 20 lakh to throng the tank. However, security arrangements are tight and nearly 20,000 personnel have been deployed,” said George.

The authorities have also decided to space out the festivities over 10 days and allow pilgrims to have a bath from day one, with the blessings of the Kanchi Sankaracharya, Jayendra Saraswati, to reduce the rush tomorrow, sources said.

The Mahamaham attracts lakhs of pilgrims from all over the country as, according to legend, nine holy rivers wash away their sins by bathing in the tank during the conjunction of the moon with the star Maka and Jupiter on full moon night in Magh.

The 6.5-acre tank, according to legend, receives its water from nine springs representing these rivers. There are 11 other wells, taking the total of water sources to 20. The tank is surrounded by 16 small shrines with a Shiva linga in each.

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