Kumbh Mela 2021 to be organised in its ‘divine form’ despite steep surge in coronavirus cases

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Kumbh Mela is a major pilgrimage and festival in Hinduism that takes place in a cycle of approximately 12 years at four river-bank pilgrimage sites: the Prayagraj (Ganges-Yamuna Sarasvati rivers confluence), Nashik (Godavari), Haridwar (Ganges), and Ujjain (Shipra).

Every year devotees fondly wait for the Mela to begin but this year is different. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are concerns and apprehensions about the Kumbha Mela and its relevant arrangements, since it is one of the largest mass gatherings in India. There have been calls from several corners to either postpone the gathering or scale it down.

To everyone’s surprise, at the beginning of this week, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat attended a meeting with office-bearers of the Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad (ABAP) regarding the preparations for the 2021 Kumbh Mela, which will begin on January 14. Post the meeting, Rawat made a statement that Kumbh Mela will be held in its ‘divine form’ at Haridwar in 2021.

He added, "The extent of the Kumbh Mela 2021 will depend on the status of the COVID-19 at that time. The suggestions of the ABAP and the religious fraternity will also be taken in the decisions, which will be taken according to the prevailing situation. The efforts of the state government will be aimed at ensuring that the devotees do not face any inconvenience."

"Work on nine new Ghats (riverbanks), eight bridges and roads being built for the Kumbh Mela is nearing completion. Special focus is on cleanliness. Works are also being done consistently on drinking water facilitation, parking facility, and removal of encroachments," he further added.

In a statement released by CMO, Urban Development Minister Madan Kaushik said that the arrangements will be done in a well-panned way so that devotees face no problems. Kaushik added that 35 to 50 lakh people are likely to attend Kumbh Mela 2021.

The count of coronavirus cases in India and across the world is on the rise. The Supreme Court has recently sought a detailed report from the governments of Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Assam, on the steps taken by them to deal with the current COVID-19 situation.

With a view to containing the overhauling spread of coronavirus, the Odisha government has taken steps to put a prohibition on congregation nears the river Ghats to sail miniature boats or take bath on the occasion of Kartik Purnima on November 30. The state government has also prohibited the famous Bali Yatra along with other congregations for the celebration of the upcoming festivals like Kartik Purnima and Bada Osha.

On one hand, we have Supreme Court tightening the knot and on the other hand, we have news of Kumbh Mela being organised in its divine form. The only prevalent situation in January 2021, will speak for how things pan out for Kumbh Mela in 2021.

For all those who don’t know, Kumbh Mela in India is a festival marked by a ritual dip in the waters, but it is also a celebration of community commerce with numerous fairs, education, religious discourses by saints, mass feedings of monks or the poor, and entertainment spectacle. The seekers believe that bathing in these rivers is a means to prāyaścitta (atonement, penance) for past mistakes and that it cleanses them of their sins.

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