By SM .17 Apr, 2021
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi this morning appealed that the mega Kumbh Mela "should now only be symbolic amid the coronavirus crisis", stressing that it will give a boost to the fight against the pandemic. Huge gatherings of tens of thousands of pilgrims - along the banks of the Ganga - in the last few days have sparked nationwide concern as India, hit by the second Covid wave, sees an alarming surge in infections.
A seer has died from COVID-19 and several others have tested positive for coronavirus after attending the festival.
In a tweet, the Prime Minister said he spoke to one of the top seers - Swami Avdheshanand Giri of Juna Akhara - over the phone and made an appeal about the religious festival that attracts millions of devotees.
"I appealed that two ""shahi snan" (royal baths) have taken place and Kumbh (participation) should now be kept symbolic. This will give a boost to the fight against this crisis," PM Modi tweeted in Hindi.
Responding to PM Modi"s tweet, Swami Avdheshanand replied in Hindi: "We respect PM Modi"s appeal. Saving lives is sacred. I request people to not gather for the ritual bath in large numbers and follow all Covid protocols."
This year, the mega Kumbh Mela or pitcher festival has already been shortened to just one month from April 1 to 30 due to the pandemic. Usually, the event is held from mid-January to April.
On Wednesday, reports that the akhadas - which wield enormous power and influence - had agreed to call off the Kumbh in the face of mounting health concerns were quickly dismissed. Officials insisted no talks had taken place, and that the Kumbh would continue as scheduled. "The Kumbh Mela used to begin in January, but looking at the Covid situation, the state government decided to start it in April this time. The centre"s rules said because of the situation, the duration would be reduced. I have no information of it being curtailed," said Deepak Rawat, District Magistrate, Haridwar, and Kumbh Mela officer.
India has been witnessing an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases for the last few weeks. This morning, 2,34,692 fresh COVID-19 cases were reported in the biggest daily spike so far.
Kumbh Mela - a mass congregation of pilgrims who gather to take a holy dip in a sacred river- "is considered to be the largest peaceful gathering in the world," according to a government website. A ritual bath - at a predetermined time and place - is the major event of the festival, it says.
The festival is celebrated four times every 12 years, the site of the observation rotating between four pilgrimage places on four sacred rivers-at Haridwar, Ujjain, Nashik, and Prayagraj.
This year, however, the second COVID-19 wave has cast a shadow on the festival. After he attended the festival, Swami Kapil Dev from Madhya Pradesh, who was the leader of the Maha Nirvani Akhada, died while being treated for a coronavirus infection at a private hospital in Dehradun. Many Sadhus have tested positive.
Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav also tested positive for Covid after he attended the festival.