"Sab tirath bar bar, Gangasagar ekbar", may we visit other holy places several times - but a visit once to Gangasagar is worth a life-time, keeping it in mind Hindus from all over the world, from Nepal, Thailand, West Indies, Canada, Japan, far from Australia and from every state of India reaches the confluence of Ganges at Sagar Sangam situated in southern part of West Bengal in India.
Gangasagar or Sagar Island is an island in the Ganges delta, lying on the continental shelf of Bay of Bengal about 100 kms (54 nautical miles) south of Kolkata. The island is large with an area of 224.3 kms. Gangasagar is a charming tourist destination, which attracts both pilgrims and adventure lovers. Located on an island in the Sundarbans, Gangasagar offers the charms of an un-spoilt beach on the estuary of the river Ganges. Gangasagar offers acres of silver sand and clear blue sky, and the calm sea for visitors who would like to spend their weekend in tranquility.
Gangasagar has acres of dazzling silver sand and clear blue sky, Gangasagar is still relatively unknown and thus, unexploited. The island of Gangasagar is among the most popular Hindu pilgrimage places in the country. Each year on Makar Sankranti (mid-January), large number of devotees from all over the nation, congregate at Gangasagar for a sacred dip at the convergence of the river Ganga and the Bay of Bengal. After the sacred dip, the pilgrims offer 'Puja' at the Kapil Muni Temple or Ashram. In several Hindu myths, the name Gangasagar is mentioned, Gangasagar also finds itself in the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore. The lighthouse at Gangasagar has great views of this beach and is perfect for watching the sunrise and sunset.
Gangasagar Fair is the second biggest congregation of Hindu pilgrims after the Kumbha Mela. The Gangasagar Mela is observed annually and only on Sagardwip (Sagar Island). Every year during Makar Sankranti pilgrims from all over the country come to take a holy dip at the confluence of the river Ganges and Bay of Bengal, followed by offering prayers at the Kapil Muni Temple. This temple is immersed in legendary tales and is highly revered among devotees.
A large number of festivities take place in this state throughout the year. Amongst them, one of the most famous is the Gangasagar Mela. It is held in the month of January-February, on the Ganga Sagar Island, at the mouth of the river Hooghly in Bengal. It is attended by thousands of pilgrims every year. A dip in the water at this place, during Gangasagar Mela, is considered to be extremely sacred. On the day of Makar Sankranti (January 14), when the sun makes a transition to Capricorn from Sagittarius, it is said that the bath becomes a holy source of salvation.
The holy river Ganges, after originating from Gangotri and traveling through plains of Rishikesh and Haridwar, reaches Bengal, where it is named Hooghly. In Bengal, this sacred river merges with the sea. Legend has it that, before combining with the sea, the Ganga watered the mortal remains of King Bhagirath's grandfather King Sagar's 60000 sons, liberating their soul from the cycle of life and death forever. After a dip into the holy river here, people generally visit Kapil Muni Temple situated nearby, to worship the idol enshrined there, as a mark of respect.
The story behind Kapil Muni Temple goes that King Sagar performed an Ashwamedha Yagna to win over the entire universe. When his horse was about to win the entire earth, Indra - the King of Heaven became alarmed. He stole the blessed horse and tied it near Kapil Muni's Ashram. King Sagar's 60000 sons thought Kapil Muni to be the culprit and disturbed him when he was thoroughly engrossed in meditation. Out of anger, Kapil Muni cursed them to turn into ashes. It is said that then Bhagirathi, the only grandson of King Sagar, mediated over years to persuade River Ganga to step down from heaven and wash the mortal remains of his ancestors and bless them with salvation. The temple today marks the presence of Kapil Muni's Ashram.
Every year, a long fair is arranged at Ganga Sagar Island, in January and February. The fair becomes highly crowded on the Makar Sankranti day. It is assumed to be the largest annual gathering of devotees in India. The popularity of this fair can be understood from the fact that without any formal or informal invitation, advertisement and organizing authority, more than a million pilgrims come here every year, from different parts of India, just to take a holy dip in the Ganges. Apart from the general pilgrims, the assemblage of Naga Sadhus here gives a unique identity to this fest.