To what extent will Kumbh Mela have an impact on COVID-19 cases in India?
Kumbh Mela 2021 celebrated in Haridwar, has attracted large crowds of people leading to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Kumbh Mela 2021 commenced on March 11, with the first snan (bath) being held on the banks of river Ganga on the occasion of Maharshivratri. Snan's are an important part of Kumbh Mela, held in Haridwar from April 1 to April 30.
History of Kumbh Mela
Mythologically, the significance of Kumbh revolves around the story of 'samudra manthan' or ocean churning from which the gods and demons obtain 'amrutam' or nectar of immortality. Because of a curse placed by Sage Durvasa on the gods, their powers are weakened and the 'asuras' demons begin to reign havoc across the world. Lord Bramha steps in and asks gods to churn the sea with the help of the demons to obtain the nectar. While they are churning, the demons find out that the gods have planned to not share the nectar and thus they start chasing the gods. As they are chasing them for 12 days, the nectar falls at 4 different locations, one being Haridwar, where the Kumbh Mela is held once every three years.
Kumbh Mela is believed to be over 2000 years old and the first instance of its mention is found in the account of a Chinese traveler by the name Xuanzang, who visited North India during the rule of King Harshavardhana from 606 to 647 CE.
Where is Kumbh Mela held?
Kumbh Mela takes place at 4 locations, Haridwar, Prayag, Trimbak-Nashik, and Ujjain. The Kumbh Mela at Haridwar is held every 12 years, depending on the Hindu astrological calendar.
Previously in 2010, when the Kumbh Mela was held in Haridwar, approximately 10 million people bathed in Ganga on the first day of the event.
Kumbh Mela in pandemic
The 2021 Kumbh Mela attracted large crowds, and approximately 3.5 million pilgrims have attended the event. The Uttarakhand government refused to call off or cut short the Mela. Before its onset, the Union Health Minister issued a list of Standard Operating Procedures as precautionary measures to avoid the further spread of COVID-19.
In a letter to Uttarakhand Chief Secretary, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan "strongly" highlighted the concerns raised by the high-level central team during its visit to Uttarakhand and about the "need for stringent measures to control the spread of Covid-19 during the ongoing Kumbh" congregation in the state.
When Kumbh Mela was compared to Markaz and Tablighi Jamaat, Uttarakhand CM Tirath Singh Rawat commented “The Markaz was held in a closed space, in a kothi like structure whereas the Kumbh is being held in the open on the sprawling ghats of the Ganga”
Further adding he said that “Most importantly, Kumbh is at the bank of the River Ganga. Maa Ganga’s blessings are there in the flow. So, there should be no corona,”
Citing other differences between the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar and Nizamuddin Markaz, Rawat said, “The devotees attending Kumbh are not from outside but our own people.”
A statement released by the CM said, that during the Mela, there should be no 'rok-tok', meaning no obstruction as the Mela is open for all.
At the Kumbh Mela, many devotees refused to follow the social distancing norms and wear masks.
The state’s Inspector General Sanjay Gunjyal was quoted by the media as saying, “ We are continuously appealing to people to follow COVID-19 norms,” however due to large crowds, it is practically impossible to issue challan.
Rise in cases in Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand had more than 7,846 active COVID-19 cases. Haridwar saw more than 2100 cases in 5 days, and around 100 sadhus have also tested positive. Almost 1700, tested positive between April 10 and 14.
PM Modi appealed to the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha president Swami Avdheshanand Giri Ji Maharaj, to observe the event as "symbolic" to strengthen the fight against the deadly virus.
The appeal came in at a time when the annual event has sparked a nationwide concern amid the surge in the high number of COVID-19 cases.
"I spoke to Acharya Mahamandaleshwar Swami Avadheshanand Giri on the phone on Saturday morning and get details about the health of all saints. I have prayed that two royal baths have taken place and that the Kumbh should be kept symbolic due to the crisis in Corona. This will give the fighting strength from this crisis," the Prime Minister said.
Responding to the appeal, Swami Avdheshanand urged people not to come in large numbers to the Kumbh Mela to bathe and to follow the rules laid out by the government. “Saving one’s and other’s lives is sacred,” he added.
India reported 2,34,692 new Covid-19 cases in 24 hours on April 16, the biggest single-day spike ever.