Over 9.1 million pilgrims visited Mahakumbh this year
A bulk of over 9.1 million pilgrims, who visited Haridwar for the Mahakumbh from January, arrived in the holy city this month even as the mega fair was curtailed from four months to one month and held in April due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Kumbh Mela Force data.
Mahakumbh started officially on April 1 when the state government issued the official notification for its beginning. The mega fair, which coincided with the worst surge in Covid-19 cases that has overwhelmed hospitals and triggered a shortage of medical oxygen, medicines, and beds, will end on Friday.
Mahakumbh, which is held once every 12 years, traditionally starts in January with the first festive bath on Makar Sankranti (January 14). It concludes towards the end of April with the last Shahi Snan (holy dip) in the Ganga on Chaitra Poornima. Because of the Covid situation, the state government curtailed the Mahakumbh.
According to the data of the Kumbh Mela Force, over 9.1 million pilgrims arrived in Haridwar to take the holy dip in Ganga from January 14 to April 27. The highest gathering of 3.5 million pilgrims was reported for Somvati Amavasya holy dip on April 12. On March 11, when Maha Shivratri was celebrated, 3.2 million pilgrims arrived for the Kumbh bath. As many as 1.3 million pilgrims gathered in Haridwar for another bath on Mesh Sankranti-Baisakhi (April 14). The number was devotees was comparatively lesser than for earlier Shahi Snans due to the spike in Covid-19 cases and strict implementation of norms.
The number of pilgrims plummeted to 25,000 for the last Shahi Snan on Chaitra Poornima (April 27) days after Swami Avdheshanand Giri, Mahamandleshwar (head) of Juna Akhara, the largest of the 13 sects of seers, was on April 17 forced to declare the conclusion of the Mahakumbh amid the surge in the cases. The announcement came after a phone call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who requested only symbolic participation in the fourth and last Shahi Snan on Tuesday.
Bathing in the river during Mahakumbh is believed to cleanse devotees of sins and ensure salvation. The Union health ministry last week warned the gathering of devotees could send coronavirus cases surging. It said up to 40 people were being tested positive for the disease daily around the site of the Mahakumbh. The ministry said coronavirus testing of 55,000 people daily in Haridwar was not enough.
Kumbh Mela Force inspector general Sanjay Gunjiyal said their major task was to ensure peaceful completion of the Mahakumbh. “...with the support of Akharas [sects], seers, local people and volunteers... [the force] ensured the fair was held smoothly with Covid-19...[protocols],” he said.
Surjeet Singh Pawar, the superintendent of Kumbh police, said their personnel were Covid-19 tested prior to their departure after Kumbhmela duty.
Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, the apex body of all the Akharas, lauded the Kumbh Mela administration for the successful completion of the fair. “Due to commitment by the government and dedication of the Kumbhmela administrative personnel despite the Covid scenario, the fair was held successfully. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat, mela officer Deepak Rawat , ...Sanjay Gunjiyal... we thank all of them for hosting a successful Kumbh, ” said Shri Mahant Hari Giri Maharaj, Akhara Parishad general secretary.
Four seers died of Covid-19 after participating in Mahakumbh. When the mega fair began on April 1, Uttarakhand had 2,236 active Covid-19 cases. The active cases rose to 45,383 on Wednesday.
Political and religious gatherings have been cited among the reasons for the worst surge of Covid-19 infections that India faces. The second wave of the pandemic has pushed the death toll in the country close to 200,000 and starved hospitals of life-saving medical oxygen and beds. The daily infections have surged above the 300,000-mark daily in the country over the last few days.