Streams of devotees have swarmed the Durga Ghat along the Krishna river here since August 12 for a holy dip, to take a pledge, wash away sins, or offer reverence to their departed relatives, even as thousands of security personnel and volunteers work tirelessly to ensure their safety, security and convenience.
They have all gathered here for Krishna Pushkaram, a 12-day river festival that comes once in 12 years, which has this time seen nearly one-and-a-half crore devotees take a holy dip with two days remaining for the auspicious bath.
Durga Ghat is one of the over 170 enclosures built by the Andhra Pradesh government along the river spread across three districts of the state.
Andhra Pradesh is using the government machinery and technology to the hilt to make Krishna Pushkaram, which ends on August 23, a smooth and successful affair and to avert a disaster like the stampede on the opening day of Godavari Pushkaram last year when 27 people were killed.
Krishna Pushkaram is being celebrated in three districts of Andhra Pradesh — Kurnool, Guntur and Krishna.
Simultaneously, the festival is taking place in Nalgonda and Mahbubnagar districts of neighbouring Telangana through which the holy river flows.
Vijayawada, the hub of the river festival every time, has been bubbling with activities as lakhs of pilgrims descended in the city every day from various parts of the state. The ghats here have been made wider this time to avoid over-crowding and are guarded by volunteers on canoes.
Roads leading to the ghats have been divided into separate lanes for pedestrians and vehicles. An army of sanitation workers has been deployed in the city to maintain cleanliness.
Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who has been leading the celebrations and personally monitoring every aspect of the festival – from cleanliness to traffic management and crowd control, said, “I want to inspire the people to associate (themselves) with the river, worship the nature. The river has given us wealth all these years. Now, it’s time for us to give back.”
Devotees also swarmed the hill shrine of Kanaka Durga, the presiding deity of Vijayawada, and other temples. The replica temple of Lord Venkateswara at Swarajya Maidan too attracted scores of devotees.
A major attraction of the festival is the daily ‘harati’
(aarti) at the confluence of Krishna and Godavari at Ibrahimpatnam near here. A host of cultural programmes has been organised at various places as part of the festival.
However, the turnout was less than what the government had expected. The government had estimated an overall footfall of 3.5 crore pilgrims across the state.
Naidu said, “In the last two years, we had two Pushkarams. One is Godavari, another is Krishna…People are associating with this river…We have used technology in a big way this Krishna Pushkaram…We are using CCTV (cameras) in a big way. Not only law and order, not only traffic, even (in) crowd management and also in cleanliness – in ghats, on roads and in waters,” he said.
The authorities have also employed drones for “close monitoring”. “18 drones are running,” he said.
The state government launched a website krishnapushkaram.Ap.Gov.In containing exhaustive information about the event, a GPS-based mobile application for people to obtain information on ghats, bus services, etc., besides developing a software application, Kaizala, as an interaction tool between the multi-disciplinary teams that have been deployed for Pushkaram duties.
Kaizala App is being used to send messages to all associated with the festival and for monitoring and coordination, Naidu said, adding, “Ultimately, we are able to provide best services to the people.”
Technology is helping us to do all these despite the state facing fund crunch. The state government has spent Rs 1,200 crore for Krishna Pushkaram, including for building roads and other infrastructure, Naidu said, adding that organisations like Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams and Akshaya Patra Foundation have made arrangements for free food for the pilgrims. Students too have come forward to help make it a success.
“People are considering this festival as their own,” he said.
Pushkaram or Pushkaralu or Pushkara is celebrated when Jupiter enters a particular zodiac sign every year on 12 rivers on rotation.