Throwing caution to the wind amid rising cases of coronavirus, thousands of seers gathered on Wednesday at Har ki Pairi in Haridwar to take a dip in the Ganga during the third Shahi Snan of the Kumbh Mela. The Shahi Snan marked Mesh Sankranti and Baisakhi. With large number of devotees taking the holy dip, Covid protocols like social distancing appeared almost impossible. By noon between eight to 10 lakh people had taken a bath in the Ganga, Uttarakhand police chief, Ashok Kumar, who was supervising the arrangements at Haridwar, said.
According to the senior officer, crowds at the Ganga ghats were much smaller than expected at the third shahi snan - considered the most important. He attributed this to the Covid restrictions in place. Police personnel were seen distributing masks among people in the Kumbh Mela area.
Social distancing norms were violated openly by the seers and their followers at Har ki Pairi. No masks were worn by a large number of them. The seers from the akhadas took the dip along with their revered deities in palanquins at the Har Ki Pairi. Lakhs of common devotees bathed at the other ghats in Haridwar and Rishikesh.
Seers and Naga sanyasis of the Niranjani Akhada, led by Acharya Kailashanand Giri, were the first to bathe in the river along with Anand Akhada seers. They were followed by the Joona Akhada, which has the highest number of sadhus led by Swami Avadheshanand. The Mahanirvani Akhada seers came next. The batches followed one another according to their allotted time slots.
All akhadas have to finish taking a dip at Har Ki Pairi before sunset so time management is very important, Mela Inspector General, Sanjay Gunjyal said. The Shahi Snans and the Kumb Mela, have raised concerns over their role in possibly adding to rising coronavirus cases in the country.
Uttarakhand recorded its highest single-day spike in Covid-19 cases on Tuesday with 1,925 people testing positive. Dehradun with 775 cases and Haridwar with 594 were the biggest contributors to the day's caseload.
During the initial hours of the third Shahi Snan, the Director General Police said, there were no disorder anywhere. He said this was because of the expansion of infrastructure in Haridwar over the past few months, including the addition of more ghats, which has helped in better crowd management.