Every year, millions of Hindus from India and beyond undertake an arduous journey to an island of West Bengal to take a dip in the holy Ganges, where it meets the Bay of Bengal, on the occasion of Makar Sankranti.
Gangasagar, formally known as the Sagar Island, lies at the delta region of the state where a number of rivers and rivulets pour into the sea. The Gangasagar Yatra is considered the third-most important pilgrimage among the Hindus, after the Maha Kumbh – which happens every 12 years – and the Kumbh – which happens every four years. Compared to the other two, Gangasagar Yatra is deemed a more cumbersome journey. It is also the second largest human congregation in the world.
The pilgrimage involves bathing at the estuary of the Ganges in order to attain moksha, a visit to the temple dedicated to Kapil Muni (a mythical hermit) and a vibrant fair that offers vivid sights and sounds. Apart from pilgrims, the event is widely covered by the national and global press and attended by hundreds of photographers, artists, and yogis. The southern tip of the island witnesses a fanfare of monumental magnitude, with men, women and children of all ages contributing to the omnium of colours, rituals, ceremonies, chants, fragrances and activities. To put it aptly, the Gangasagar Yatra is a delight for a visual gourmand and a soul-seeker.
Given the recalcitrant location of the island, Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, serves as the transit for most that are headed to Gangasagar. Keeping with the mood and the purpose of the journey, most pilgrims camp near the river, furthering the various rituals in and around the concourse. We bring you a few glimpses of this confluence of beliefs, identities and, above all, the belongingness.
Keep an eye out for our full video coverage of the Gangasagar Yatra on this website.