VHP scare at holy dip

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By M.R. VENKATESH
  • Published 7.03.04
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Kumbakonam (Tamil Nadu), March 7: The last day of the Mahamaham here yesterday produced some anxious moments for the organisers when a small group of VHP volunteers surged into the tank with saffron flags in hand.

With over 20 lakh devotees in attendance, any disturbance could have easily got out of hand with disastrous consequences.

Police stepped in immediately when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad supporters waved the flags amid the crowd of pilgrims, adding to their restlessness. The volunteers were warned “not to wave their flags inside the tank”.

The organisers suffered more tense moments when the devotees caught sight of Kanchi Sankaracharya Sri Jayendra Saraswati during the Theerthavari ritual (sprinkling of holy water), the most important event of the once-in-12-years southern Kumbh Mela.

The ecstatic crowd surged forward with folded hands but some deft management by Tamil Nadu police reined them in.

Chief minister Jayalalithaa perhaps had these eventualities in mind as she stayed away from the festival. Till late on Friday night, there were rumours that the ADMK chief might make an unpublicised visit at the eleventh hour as the festival’s star, Maga, is her birth star, sources said.

They added Jayalalithaa, the only chief minister to have presided over two Mahamahams — the last in 1992 — might have had in mind the negative political fallout of any untoward incident at the festival, especially in the run-up to the polls.

The last time, over 50 people had died in a stampede at the tank. Jayalalithaa, who had come to power for the first time in 1991, had visited the tank for the holy dip, accompanied by family and friends.

But the chief minister need not worry about getting the sacred water this time. The postal department has arranged to deliver to absent devotees a bottle of the water along with the “prasad” through money order.

The most auspicious day of the festival, however, had begun with a “chain snatcher” being fished out of the Mahamaham tank by some policewomen. He was caught in the act just before the final ritual of the 10-day festival started.

The state government has spent over Rs 50 crore to create the infrastructure for the Mahamaham and ensure its smooth conduct, which appeared to have impressed a French couple.

“It is a spectacular view, the sheer numbers and the way diverse traditions in India are observed,” said Jean and Evelyn from Paris.