All roads led to Rajahmundry, the 1,000-year-old historical place as well as modern town in Andhra Pradesh, for the grand celebration of Godavari Pushkaralu. The river fete was celebrated from July 14 at 6.26 a.m, for twelve days, and pilgrims, devotees and tourists from all over Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and the southern and northern states descended on the town to make Pushkaralu a truly memorable event.
The town is named after Raja Raja Narendra who ruled it in the eleventh century and who commissioned the great Telugu poet, Nannayya, to translate the Sanskrit Mahabharata into Telugu. The town was then known as Rajamahendravaram, which the British subsequently corrupted to Rajahmundry.
The Andhra Pradesh Government made elaborate arrangements in both East and West Godavari districts for the holy event that saw an average of 60 lakh pilgrims pouring in to the banks of Godavari. While the State Government publicised the event well in advance, creating awareness among the people over the once in 12-year ritual, the modern communications too helped attract millions of pilgrims to the Godavari Pushkaram, making it one of the largest congregations in recent times across the country.
After taking holy dip in Rajahmundry, where the river brims in its full expanse and has been a nerve centre for Pushkaralu, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu blew a conch shell to mark the beginning of the 12-day event on 14th July. Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayandra Sarswathi also took the sacred bath. In the preceding night, a curtain raiser event was held at the Pushkar Ghat which was a cultural extravaganza. The CM, being head of the State, received the ‘Pushkar Akhanda Swagatha Jyothi Yatra’ (torch rally). Later, he released sky lanterns from the Pushkar Ghat. A grand beginning was made for the 12-day fete, as devotees turned up in large numbers to watch the cultural show.
A Tragedy: Conspiracy Angle
The death of 27 pilgrims in a stampede at the Pushkar Ghat on the first day of the Maha Pushkarams left everyone shell- shocked. Fishing in the troubled waters, the detractors made attempts to lay the accusing fingers on the Chief Minister. The government is suspecting that the stampede was the handiwork of anti-social elements. A judicial inquiry was ordered into the incident. The CM announced ex gratia of Rs 10 lakhs each to the families of the dead, while the injured were treated at hospitals with Government aid.
CM Stays Put
Upset though the Chief Minister was over the untoward incident, he immediately swung into action to stay the course. He lodged himself in Rajahmundry for the next 12 days and monitored the arrangements with minute care. He was everywhere, conducting aerial surveys, making midnight inspections, giving suggestions on easing traffic, observing from police control room, issuing directions on preventing health hazards and ensuring that the congregation is facilitated in taking the holy dip in all comfort and peace.
Besides conducting aerial surveys and frequent field visits, the CM moved on a river cruise and inspected all the ghats around Rajahmundry. He also checked the details of water being discharged into sea at Dowleswaram Barrage. While sitting in the control room, he personally reviewed the situation at various ghats and instructed the officials accordingly. He took utmost care for providing basic amenities like sanitation, drinking water, to the pilgrims and engaged the Fire Services to continuously clean up the ghats with huge water pipes. His personal involvement and initiatives ensured that the devotees had a memorable spiritual and cultural experience.
The State government of Andhra Pradesh made an array of arrangements on an unprecedented scale, spending nearly Rs 2000 crore for this humungous event. Be it free transport in Rajahmundry, or facilities like water, food and medication – they were all made available in plenty. About 275 ghats in the twin districts were made ready, the most prominent one being the 1.5 km long ghat at Kotilingala in Rajahmundry. Pushkar Nagars with amenities for pilgrim stay were built at several places in the city. More than 300 sanitation workers from Tamil Nadu were hired to keep the Pushkaram ghats spic and span on a daily basis. The workers, who had expertise in garbage collection and sanitary works during river jamborees, were put on round-the-clock duty removing solid waste and cleaning up the ghats.
Replicas of famous temples of the State were arranged on either side of the river for the pilgrims of Godavari Maha Pushkaralu. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam put up an expo with miniatures of 11 famous shrines of Srikalahasthi, Srisailam, Kanipakam, Vijayawada, Annavaram, Dwaraka Tirumala and Simhachalam and deputed its priests to perform daily rituals. The temple replicas witnessed huge rush every day.
The Godavari Harati at dusk every evening was a thrilling spiritual experience for the thousands of devotees who gathered at Pushkar Ghat daily.
Pushkaram Highlights in a nutshell
- A whopping 4.9 crore pilgrims took holy dip in river Godavari in both districts
- As many as 287 bathing ghats served on both sides of the river
- 6.65 crore drinking water packets were distributed
- 70 lakh butter milk packets distributed
- 3.25 crore – ‘Pinda Pradhanam’ rituals performed
- 248 medical camps were set up
- A Total of 171 CCTV cameras were installed in and around the ghats
- 12,173 number of announcements on missing persons
- 1,927 APSRTC buses made 4,098 trips
- 300 City buses operated
- 60.85 lakh Passengers availed RTC services
- 15 lakh travelled on trains
- 650 Cultural programmes were organised
- 22 km wire broadcasting system used to telecast Pushkarams live across Rajahmundry
Number of pilgrims
The officials used various techniques to count the number of sojourners to the Ghats. The data was collected from the CCTV footages and photographs taken at different times of day; with the help of the security personnel, the head count of the pilgrims at the ghats was also considered. The policemen and volunteers, who were managing the queue lines counted the pilgrims passing through their gates; vehicles entering the city and other places. It was further estimated through the traffic of RTC buses and the trains. On the concluding day, the Minister for Information and Public Relations, Palle Raghunatha Reddy explained how the total number of pilgrims- 4.91 crores was calculated. The Minister affirmed that 3.42 crores of devotees took holy dip in the ghats of East Godavari, whereas in West Godavari the number was 1.49 crore.
The Godavari Harati, on the lines of Ganga Arti, initiated by the State Government on the eve of Godavari Pushkaralu, has turned out to be the highlight of the 12-day event. Godavari Harati, presented daily at dusk on the river bank, is similar to the Ganga Harati at Haridwar and Varanasi. Enthralled devotees thronged the Pushkar Ghat every evening to experience the spiritually thrilling tribute to the sustenance of life. The ritual of Godavari Harati performed by Vedic pundits on a specially designed pedestal on the river made for dazzling viewing. The Harati, which will be a regular feature henceforth, turned out to be the special attraction for many who came from far and wide. The light and sound show conducted at the inaugural event, too, was much appreciated for its creativity.
Valedictory on a Grand Scale
After 12 days of uninterrupted celebrations, the Godavari Maha Pushkaralu-2015 concluded on a grand note with enticing cultural programmes and an extravagant display of fire crackers on the banks of river Godavari on 25th July. The city, including all bathing ghats, was beautifully decked up with fountains, paintings and statues of Telugu stalwarts. The laser show, release of sky lanterns, firecrackers and ‘Godavari Nitya Harathi’ organised at the Pushkar Ghat impressed thousands of pilgrims gathered at the venue. The light and sound show apart from Godavari Nitya Harathi, which was all entrusted to noted film director Boyapati Srinu, also enthralled the devotees.
Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev, who was present at the valedictory ceremony, appreciated Godavari Harathi and said its look was more impressive than Ganga Harathi.
Music concert by reputed Carnatic vocalist Mangalampalli Bala Murali Krishna, flute concert by Pandit Hari Prasad Chowrasia and Kuchipudi ballet by 1,000 dancers from Kuchipudi Natyaramam held at the Government Arts College Grounds marked the concluding ceremony of the mega religious fete. Scholars and artistes flocked to the river banks to talk about the grandeur of the Telugu people, whose history was so tangled with the course of the river.
Kudos to the CM
It is to the credit of Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu that millions of believers and nature lovers poured into East and West Godavari even after the first day’s unfortunate incident. The CM’s strenuous efforts in containing the damage and standing steadfast to repair the damage and provide the best care for the pilgrims was appreciated by one and all. His staying put at Rajahmundry all through the Pushkaralu, along with many of his cabinet colleagues, instilled a sense of confidence among the devotees who made a beeline to the ghat from across the state and the country.
Those who took the holy dip did not fail to mention their appreciation at the fool-proof arrangements made and facilities provided to the surging crowds. “We had a peaceful dip at the ghat. Once we entered Rajahmundry, we could see that everything was in place. Every official was helpful. The arrangements made the ritual bath for the entire family easy and enjoyable. We have seen the Chief Minister himself inspecting everything. Only Chandrababu could have managed such a huge crowd. I salute his courage and conviction, “said a beaming Prabhakara Rao, who came from Nellore to the auspicious event.
“It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining…”
Jonna, who came along with her friends, Grams Smith and Brooks to Rajahmundry to take sacred bath, referred to the above quote of Mark Twain, after his visit to Kumbh Mela of 1895.
“We experienced the spirit of the quote, when we have become part of the huge congregation sans barriers of caste, or creed. This fete exerted captivating influence over our minds,” she said.
For 103-year-old Koteswara Rao Garimella of Vegeswarapuram, West Godavari district, bringing parallels between Godavari Pushkarams and Kumbh Mela is absolutely wrong.
“Amongst all the river festivals, including the Maha Kumbh, I visited in my life, the present Maha Pushkaram gives me an unprecedented excitement,” Garimella toldAndhra Pradesh bureau.
While the administration took every care for the smooth conduct of the Pushkaralu, the Chief Minister has to be credited with making the event a grand cultural and social affair.
The extravagant display of fireworks, sky lanterns and dance shows, besides a host of seminars, religious and spiritual discourses during the event was painstakingly planned and executed under the direct supervision of the Chief Minister.
Godavari Pushkaralu have not only been an enormous success but also turned out to be a scintillating example of leading from the front in times of crisis. That certainly bodes well for the State of Andhra Pradesh in days to come!
The unfortunate incident on the first day did indeed leave the CM shell-shocked. “For the last four months we have been taking all necessary measures to prevent any untoward incidents incident. But it happened and it is unfortunate,” he said. But undeterred, he rose to the occasion; put his heart and soul into relief operations. Soon, he personally supervised fool-proof arrangements for the entire period of Pushkaralu. Millions of devotees, however, unanimously praised the CM for his untiring efforts during the grand event.
The triumph over initial setback helped strength the resove of the Chief Minister. Wrapping up the event, he said the grand success of the 12-day Godavari Pushkarams would serve as a morale-booster to the State Government, the administration, employees and people of the 13 districts to build a model State. The CM said his plea to different sections to rise to the occasion evoked tremendous response and a collective effort enabled successful management of nearly 5 crore pilgrims who poured in from all directions. “With the same spirit, we can do wonders in future.”