The first phase of the second largest annual Muslim congregation after holy Hajj began Friday morning in Tongi on the outskirts of Bangladesh capital Dhaka with religious sermons for millions of devotees from home and abroad.
The grand prayer at the congregation called Biswa Ijtema on the bank of the Turag river at Tongi, some 25 km north of capital Dhaka, will be held on Sunday, seeking divine blessings and welfare of all mankind.
The second phase of the Bishwa Ijtema, which is being held in two phases since 2011 to avoid mad rush of pilgrims, will begin on the same venue on Jan. 31 and it will conclude with the offering of Akheri Munajat (concluding prayer) on Feb. 2.
The organizers usually do not maintain any list of devotees, but they guess the number of devotees would not be less than several millions this year.
Devotees in their hundreds from home and abroad were seen streaming into the Ijtema venue and its adjacent areas.
Organizers say standby airport transport service has been arranged for tens of thousands of devotees expected from 130 countries including China, India, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and the U.K.
The annual congregation and the entire area turned into a sea of humanity as tens of thousands of people from Dhaka and surrounding areas flocked to Ijtema to join devotees for Jumma ( Muslims' Friday) prayer in the afternoon.
Hundreds of local and foreign clerics will speak during the three-day congregation. The main sermons are given in Urdu but later explained in other languages.
Local devotees from far and wide of the country are streaming into the Ijtema ground, as buses, trains and all other modes of transport are carrying thousands of people wearing white punjabi ( Muslim's traditional suit for male) and white caps to Tongi.
Bangladesh Railway has introduced special train services for transporting devotees to Tongi from different areas. State-run Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation is also providing additional services for the Ijtema-goers.
Social and voluntary organizations have set up temporary medical camps to provide emergency medical services to the Ijtema participants.
The organizers have put up loud speakers several kilometers away from the venue so that devotees could join the grand prayer.
To ensure safety and security of the devotees and maintain the law and order, about 10,000 members of different law-enforcing agencies have been deployed in and around 60-hectare Ijtema ground, the main venue of the congregation, senior police officer Abdul Baten had earlier told reporters.
He said observation towers have been set up at different strategic points to oversee people's movement.
Traffic on many city roads and highways has been kept suspended for smooth holding of the congregation.
Like previous years the authorities are likely to hold a mass wedding without dowry during the congregation which will conclude with grand prayer on Sunday.
Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and ministers, lawmakers, leaders of political parties are expected to join the concluding prayer that marks the end of the annual event since 1976 at the same venue.