A large number of devotees began taking a holy dip in the Sarayu river on Dev Deepawali or Kartik Purnima amid tight security in Ayodhya on Tuesday, the first religious congregation in the temple town since the judgement in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Barbi Masjid case.
People began coming to the ghats since early the hours amid chants of "Sita Ram" playing on loudspeakers in the streets, while many devotees who came from neighbouring districts in Uttar Pradesh camped overnight near the river.
"I took the holy dip at 2 am. I have been coming here every Kartik Purnima for the last 20 years," said Kolhai, a farmer who came from a village in Gorakhpur.
"The feeling of taking a holy dip on this day is totally divine. That is why we come here," the 62-year-old said. "And, this time, it is more special as the Supreme Court verdict has just paved the way for building a temple for our Ram Lalla."
Satish Pandey, 55, cycled all the way from Gonda to Ayodhya to take a holy dip in Sarayu, despite many asking him not to go to the temple town.
"People in my village told me there is so much security in Ayodhya, movement has been restricted or regulated in many areas," the farmer said. "But, I had to come to seek the blessings of ''Prabhu Shri Ram'' on this auspicious occasion. And he's my ultimate protector, so I had no fear."
Settling a fractious issue that goes back more than a century, the Supreme Court in a historic verdict on Saturday backed the construction of a Ram temple by a trust at the disputed site in Ayodhya and ruled that an alternative five-acre plot must be found for a mosque in the holy town.
This being the first Kartik Purnima since the landmark judgement, local authorities have made all arrangements amid a high security alert in the city.
A posse of security personnel has been deployed along the ghats, while regular check-posts have set up in the streets alongside patrolling parties on roads.
The nearly four-km stretch from the symbolic Ayodhya Dwar bordering Faizabad town to the main Ayodhya city still remains under tight watch with no public transport being allowed to go beyond that from Faizabad side.
Even for private vehicles, hardly any four-wheelers could be seen beyond the gate, while two-wheeler riders were allowed to go to towards the Ayodhya side only after proper checking of identity cards.
"This arrangement has been in place since Friday night, the day the verdict timing was announced. It is likely to remain for another week or so to ensure foolproof security," a police officer said. "Also, in view of Kartik Purnima, security forces are on extra vigil."
Kartik Purnima or the night of the full moon of Kartik month of the Hindu calendar falls 15 days after Diwali, the night of Kartik Amavasya.
Devotees from various districts of Uttar Pradesh, including Barabanki, Sultanpur, Gonda and Bahraich, flock to Ayodhya every year on this festive season for a massive religious congregation on the banks of Sarayu.
For the devotees, arrangements have been made at the river banks, the main ghats being Ram Ki Paidi, Naya Ghat and Guptar Ghat, where water level is sufficient, said Murlidhar Singh, the deputy director of information of Ayodhya Division.
"The auspicious period for the holy dip began at 5.34 pm on Monday and will go on till 6.42 pm on Tuesday," he told PTI. "We are expecting lakhs of people to converge on this occasion. Adequate security arrangements have been made to ensure nothing untoward happens as it is a sensitive time post the judgement."
The ghats have been divided into four zones and about 20 sectors within each zone, resulting in a total of 80 sectors, he said.
"About 13 mobile toilets, besides other sanitation facilities and 18 ambulances, have been installed and ghats have been illuminated to add to the festive spirit," Mr Singh said.
The senior officer said units of paramilitary forces and home guards had also been deployed.
"We have marked danger zones and 200 divers would also be on standby to avert any mishap," he said.
Asked about the festival falling within few days of the verdict, Singh said the ghats were about three km away from the Ram Janmabhoomi-Barbi Masjid site and the situation here would be relatively lighter and security a little relaxed.
"After the holy dip on Tuesday evening, every security arrangement will be further tightened on the ghats too," he added.
Sohrat Sahni, 62, another devotee who came with a group of villagers from Gorakhpur, said people have kept out this year because of the Ayodhya verdict and its possible repercussions.
Tara Wati, 38, a native of Gonda district, said the volume of people coming for the holy dip seemed to be less this time.
"Ram temple issue, the verdict on which has just come out, is still weighing on the minds of the people. Many have not come fearing something untoward may happen," she said, heading to Naya Ghat for a holy dip.
Asked if she was afraid to visit this year, Wati said: "How can I feel afraid while going to ''Ram Nagri'' (city of Ram/Ayodhya)?"