Thirty-two hectares of land, 1 lakh makeshift toilets, 20,000 construction workers, an equal number of sanitation workers, and 40,000 LED lights — that’s what makes up Kumbh Nagri, the temporary city near Triveni Sangam where Kumbh 2019 begins on January 15. On the ground, there is a makeshift administration office, with the Mela Adhikary wielding the powers of a DM, and supervising day-to-day proceedings.
In the run-up to the mega event, the entire city of Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad) is under construction. Footpaths and speed-breakers are being built. The roads are dotted with digital hoardings where Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his cabinet are welcoming visitors to the Kumbh.
At the Kumbh Nagri camp office, thousands line up at Mela Adhikary Vijay Kiran Anand’s office with applications to be allotted space during the 49-day event. Spiritual organisations are offered free living quarters with basic facilities during the Kumbh.
Here, some rue that their applications have not been processed yet. A pujari named Sanjay Pandey from Mathura, brandishing a photocopy of the facilities offered to his organisation last time, seems rattled that his application for this year hasn’t been approved yet. A group of political leaders from the region threaten to protest if space is not allotted to their affiliated sadhus.
Anand tells The Indian Express, “We have divided Kumbh Nagri into 20 sectors, where more than 5,000 camps will be set up for Kumbh kalpavasis (temporary residents during the event). We are expecting more than 120 million pilgrims this time.”
While an entire sector is dedicated to popular sects such as Juna Akhara and Nirmohi Akhara, a hospital has been set up in another, canteens and cultural spaces in another and designated Ganga aarti spots in a third one. As many as 38 pontoon bridges have been constructed to interconnect the entire temporary district.
There are police stations and fire brigade facilities in each sector. Says a cop on duty at Sector 2, the Akhara sector, “There are 40 police stations in Kumbh Nagri, while the entire city of Prayagraj has 42 police stations. Twenty-thousand policemen are posted on site till the end of the Kumbh (March 4) and have been trained to deal with crisis situations such as stampede.” Fifteen lost-and-found centres are being set up, he says.
The focus of the exercise lies at ‘VIP Ghat’ in Sector 18, created for delegates from around 72 nations, who will be visiting the Kumbh, escorted by the CM. Flags of the respective nations have been put up and a green carpet laid out on the sandy ghat, from where the view of Triveni Sangam is clear.
Ajay Dubey, a construction superintendent on site, says, “In neighbouring Sector 19, cultural stages are being constructed while a sophisticated tent city for their stay is being put up in Sector 20.” More than 4,200 premium tents are being set up for foreign tourists, while other visitors and pilgrims will be put up in pandals and public accommodation.
Nine months after the Kumbh Mela made it to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list as the largest peaceful congregation of pilgrims on earth, the state government, in conjunction with the Centre, aims to make the Ardh Kumbh the “biggest ever celebration” of its kind. Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma had told The Indian Express recently, “After the UNESCO honour, we will make it the biggest Kumbh in India. It will be fashioned like an international event with lots of visitors from all over the world.”
His ministry has tasked zonal cultural centres across the country to send hundreds of artistes to perform at the Kumbh. Ramlila and Krishna Lila will be staged, and an international ballet themed around the Ganga has been planned. The Ministry of Tourism has embarked on a mega publicity spree through missions abroad to generate interest about the fair, according to a submission by Tourism Minister K J Alphons in Lok Sabha recently.