ALLAHABAD, INDIA, December 18, 2012 (Indian Express): Countdown for the upcoming Maha Kumbh congregation here began today with thousands of Naga sadhus, revered for their austerity and feared for their quick temper, marching in a majestic procession to their camps in the vicinity of the holy confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical river Saraswati.
More than 5,000 scantily-clad Naga sadhus made their ceremonial entry into the sprawling Kumbh Mela on the first day of Peshwai -- the name by which the ceremonial entry of ascetics is popularly known. The procession, which included dozens of beautifully decorated horses, elephants and musical bands playing devotional tunes, commenced at Maujagiri Ashram and traversed a distance of about 1.7 miles to reach the assigned camps near the holy Sangam.
The akharas are communities of martial monks owing their origin to Adi Sankaracharya, who established these groups with a view to protecting the Sanatana Dharma. There are altogether 13 akharas, seven of which are adherents to the Saivite school of thought, while three are Vaishnavites and an equal number follow the Udaseen tradition.
The Naga sadhus are considered a star attraction of the Maha Kumbh Mela, which is held here every 12 years. Shahi snan (royal bathing) takes place on Makar Sankranti, Mauni Amavasya and Basant Panchmi when the Naga sadhus take a holy dip in the Sangam in processions that surpass the Peshwai in grandeur. The Maha Kumbh Mela will officially begin on January 14, coinciding with the festival of Makar Sankranti, and conclude on Maha Shivaratri on March 10.