Amid Virus Worries, Millions Expected At Kumbh Mela

Kumbh Mela: This year, Haridwar is the host, and several million people were expected to throng the holy city in Uttarakhand over the coming seven weeks.

Amid Virus Worries, Millions Expected At Kumbh Mela

The coronavirus has not stopped devout Hindus from making the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage

Haridwar:

Hindu pilgrims flocked to the Ganga river on Wednesday, shrugging off the risk of coronavirus a day before the start of the Kumbh Mela -- a religious festival that attracts millions each time it is held.

Despite India having the second most coronavirus infections in the world -- and more than 150,000 deaths -- the virus has not stopped devout Hindus from making the pilgrimage.

"The pandemic is a bit of a worry, but we are taking all precautions," said organiser Siddharth Chakrapani, who expected between 8,00,000 to 10 lakh people to attend on Thursday alone.

"I'm sure Maa Ganga will take care of their safety," he added.

According to Hindu mythology, gods and demons fought a war over a sacred pitcher containing the nectar of immortality. Drops fell at four different locations, which now alternate as hosts for the immense gatherings.

Recognised as a cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2017, the last Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2019 attracted around 55 million people over 48 days.

This year, beginning Thursday, Haridwar is the host, and several million people were expected to throng the holy city in Uttarakhand over the coming seven weeks.

'Not like Europe'

Sadhus are a regular feature at the Kumbh Mela, camping by the river and offering blessings to those who come for the holy immersion.

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On Wednesday, its banks teemed with pilgrims and vendors while families laid out plastic sheeting for picnics.

Most were oblivious to the threat of coronavirus.

"India is not like Europe... when it comes to immunity we are better," said 50-year-old pilgrim Sanjay Sharma.

"It's really sad to see people not gathering at Kumbh in the same numbers as they would earlier -- just because of a sneeze or a cough.

"The greatest truth on earth is death. What's the point of living with fear?"

This week sees several other religious festivals in the country, including the Gangasagar in Kolkata where officials expect around 15,000 people.

Tamil Nadu's Madurai is due to host Jallikattu, the bull-taming sport, when revellers grab hold of the beasts' horns as they run through crowds of people.

Still, while life is gradually returning to normal in India, experts warn a new wave of coronavirus could hit.