This major Hindu festival attracts millions of visitors for several weeks a year. Indian pilgrims began arriving in the thousands on Wednesday, January 13, on the banks of the Ganges on the eve of Kumbh Mela, despite the coronavirus pandemic. “We are waiting here between 800,000 and a million people for game day alone“said Siddharth Chakrapani, one of the organizers of the pilgrimage to Haridwar, Uttarakhand, which lasts seven weeks.
“The pandemic is a bit worrying, but we are taking all precautions,” he said, whileIndia is officially the second most polluted country in the world. from the coronavirus, which killed more than 150,000 there. “I’m sure Maa Ganga will take care of your safety,” he wants to believe, referring to the Ganges River, where bathing is a sacred act for the Hindu faithful.
On its banks, a constant stream of visitors, many do not wear a mask, he struggled to respect a certain physical distance. Families were looking for a place to store their belongings, before taking turns bathing in the cold waters of the river.
Various religious holidays this week in India
According to Hindu mythology, Gods and demons waged war for a sacred pitcher, the Kumbh, which contained an elixir of immortality. A few drops escaped in four different places that today host these festivals alternately. The last pilgrimage, which took place in Prayagraj, the ancient Allahabad in southern Uttarakhand, in 2019, received 55 million people in 48 days.
From Thursday the sadhous will arrive, holy men with naked bodies, covered in ashes, with dreadlocks, on the banks of the river where they will be installed to bless the pilgrims who have come to bathe. But this year, due to the pandemic, the participants could be a little less, which lamented Sanjay Sharma, a 50-year-old pilgrim.
“India is not like Europe, when it comes to immunity we are better off. It is really sad that people are not coming to Kumbh in such large numbers as before, from fear to a simple sneeze or cough,” he said, adding: “the greatest truth on earth is death. What is the use of living in fear?“.
This week, other religious holidays are celebrated in India, in particular the Gangasagar in Calcutta, where the authorities expect some 15,000 people. The same estimates in Madurai, in the state of Tamil Nadu, for the Jallikattu festivities, during which bulls are released into the crowd.