The mythology behind Kumbh
Kumbh is one of the most sacred pilgrimages for Hindus. According to information shared on a website on Kumbh hosted by Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj Mela Pradhikaran, the founding myth of the Kumbh Mela points to the puranas (compilation of ancient legends). It recounts how gods and demons fought over the sacred kumbh (pitcher) of amrit (nectar of immortality) called the Ratna of Samudra Manthan. It is widely believed that Lord Vishnu (disguised as the enchantress ‘Mohini’) whisked the kumbh out of the grasp of the covetous demons who had tried to claim it. As he took it towards heaven, a few drops of the precious nectar fell on four sacred sites, which we now know as Haridwar, Ujjain, Nashik and Prayag. The flight and the following pursuit is said to have lasted 12 divine days, which is equivalent to twelve human years, and therefore, the mela is celebrated every 12 years, staggered at each of the four sacred sites in this cycle. The corresponding rivers are believed to have turned into amrit at the cosmic moment, giving pilgrims the chance to bathe in the essence of purity, auspiciousness, and immortality.
The importance of Kumbh 2021 for Uttarakhand
The annual pilgrimage of Char Dham Yatra resumed late and with restrictions. The annual Kanwar Yatra could not happen due to the pandemic. And now, the Kumbh Mela 2021, which is to be held from January 1 to April 30, is a hope of revival for the people associated with the sector, says Seema Nautiyal, Hardiwar District Tourism Officer.
There are over 800 hotels and 350 ashrams in Haridwar where preparations are underway to accomodate an average 1.25 lakh pilgrims on any given day during the Kumbh. The tourism department was earlier expecting around 10 crore pilgrims, but restrictions imposed to ensure social distancing will curtail the figure. As 156-sq km ‘mela area’ has been demarcated in three districts of Haridwar, Dehradun and Pauri Garhwal for people associated with hospitality, tourism and civil supply in these districts, and adjoining areas of western Uttar Pradesh, to get business during the religious congregation.
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Preparations for the Kumbh Mela 2021
Hundreds of labourers have been working on permanent infrastructure, laying of sandstone at the ghats of Har Ki Pauri and shifting overhead power cables underground to give the area a facelift. A total of 51 construction projects which will be permanent in nature are underway in the mela area. A few projects had started in August 2019, but most began in January 2020. Lockdown had halted the progress for a few weeks after which is resumed in the first unlock.
According to Mela Officer Deepak Rawat, projects worth Rs 320 crore are going on, with December 15 as the deadline to complete them. Rawat claims 70 per cent of the work has been completed. This includes seven bridges, various new roads, astha path, upgradation of police barracks, fire stations and bus station and facelifts of various ghats.
How Kumbh 2021 is different from the past
First, the schedule has changed. Kumbh is celebrated once in 12 years and and the previous kumbh in Hardiwar was held in 2010. The next one was to be held in 2022, but is happening a year earlier.
“After more than 100 years the kumbh will be held earlier. It is happening because of specific auspicious dates,” said Mahant Narendra Giri, head of Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Prishad, who attended various meetings chaired by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat on the preparations.
Second, crowd management will be tackled differently due to Covid-19. For taking a holy dip in the Ganga on the dates of four Shahi Snans (March 11, April 12, April 14 and April 27), pilgrims will have to register on a website and select a specific ghat to bathe. Each pilgrim will be allotted a specific time to visit the ghat, and will be allowed to bathe only for 15 minutes. The route map of the selected ghat will also be provided on the e-pass.
The mela area and all 107 ghats too have been marked as red, green and yellow zones, according to vulnerability. GIS mapping of the entire area has been done, and if there is crowding at any particular site above the permissible limit, the control room will receive an alert that will be relayed to security force teams available nearby. The crowd capacity of each ghat has also been assessed. Further, since, in the past, stampedes have occurred in the morning or forenoon as people rush to bathe, the administration will increase the time duration to reduce crowd density during these hours.
IG, Kumbh Mela, Sanjay Gunjyal said the portal system will be for Shahi Snans days when the maximum crowd turns up to take a holy dip, and pilgrims will have to produce a pass at the border. Gunjyal said the strategy can be changed further in view of the pandemic.
A staggering seven million devotees attended the last Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in 2010. Officials said the grandness can be attested by the fact that there were 1.5 crore people in the mela area on April 14, 2020 — one particular date of shahi snan.
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It is also expected that pilgrims will be able to bathe in cleaner water in the Ganga this year. While inaugurating various projected related to Namami Gange mission in Uttarakhand via video conferencing recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that as it was experienced by the pilgrims at Prayagraj Kumbh, the visitors to Haridwar Kumbh would also experience the clean and pure status of the River Ganga in Uttarakhand.
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