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On the occasion of Chitra Purnima, a large number of people took a holy dip in the Ganga river during the ongoing (and purportedly suspended) Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. People were seen flouting COVID-19 regulations as they did not wear face masks or maintain social distance, though the number of devotees was fewer. A number of devotees were seen waiting in long queues to take a dip in the holy river as the last 'shahi snan' of Kumbh Mela took place on Tuesday.
The first Shahi Snan was held on March 11 on the occasion of Mahashivratri, while the second and third were held on April 12 and 14. On the day of the Baisakhi Snan on April 14, more than 9.5 lakh devotees from various ‘akharas’ took a dip in Ganga. One seer, Mahamandleshwar Kapil Dev Das died of COVID-19, while scores of seers contracted the virus.
In the backdrop of rising Coronavirus cases, the Kumbh Mela with its large gathering was seen as a super spreader event. Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav also tested positive for the disease after attending the festival.
On April 17, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed that the Kumbh Mela be observed in a symbolic manner. He stressed that it would give a boost to the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In response, Swami Avdheshanand replied, "We respect PM Modi's appeal. Saving lives is sacred. I request people to not gather for the ritual bath in large numbers and follow all Covid protocols."
Kumbh Mela sees lakhs of devotees gathering at the banks of the sacred river every 12 years to perform various rituals, including ritual baths on specific dates. In view of the pandemic, the duration of Kumbh Mela was curtailed this year to 30 days. In normal circumstances, the event is held for nearly four months from mid-January to April in 12 years.
(With inputs from agency)