Thousands of Hindu devotees have gathered along the Ganges river in Haridwar as Kumbh Mela kick starts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, marking the beginning of the Mela, over 7 lakh devotees took a holy dip in the bank of the river.
According to the Information Department of the Uttrakhand government, as many as 7,11,000 devotees performed rituals at Har ki Pairi during the time of aarti.
Images and visuals from the venue show thousands of devotees gathered, shrugging off COVID-19 protocols. One can clearly see no social distancing norms being followed and people can be seen without wearing masks.
However, according to news agency ANI, the government has claimed that all COVID-19 health protocols were followed on the first day of the Kumbh. The government said that 974 people were fined for flouting the guidelines on the first day.
This year, the Mela comes as a major concern due to the ongoing pandemic as the country has the second largest number of coronavirus infections in the world. This also comes at a time when the country is set to roll out the first phase of COVID-19 vaccination.
According to a report by John Hopkins University, India has so far seen over 10.5 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 151,727 recorded deaths and even this could not deter the devotees from taking the pilgrimage.
On Wednesday, the Uttarakhand High Court sought a report on healthcare provisions made for the Kumbh Mela amid the COVID-19 pandemic such as the numbers of ventilators, ICUs and hospital beds.
Kumbh Mela is recognised as a piece of intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO and its last edition – in Allahabad (now Prayagraj, in Uttar Pradesh state) in 2019 – attracted about 55 million people in 48 days.
Taking a dip in the Ganges is considered a sacred rite by Hindus, who come from across India and beyond its borders to participate.
While the country is slowly striving to restore normalcy, people travelling from different places for the event comes as a major fear.