Posted January 14, 2021 9:18 am by

Several million people are expected to throng Haridwar over the coming seven weeks © AFP / Money SHARMA

Haridwar, India, Jan 14 – Hindu pilgrims descended on the banks of the Ganges river Thursday, shrugging off Covid-19 risks for the start of the Kumbh Mela, a religious festival that regularly attracts millions.

India’s severe outbreak — the second most coronavirus infections in the world, and more than 150,000 deaths — has not stopped devout Hindus from making the pilgrimage to Haridwar in northern India.

“The pandemic is a bit of a worry, but we are taking all precautions,” said organiser Siddharth Chakrapani, who expected between 800,000 and a million people to attend on Thursday alone.

“I’m sure Maa Ganga will take care of their safety,” he added, referring to the river considered holy by the faithful.

Coronavirus fails to deter India’s massive Ganges pilgrimage

A Hindu family takes a dip at the start of Kumbh Mela © AFP / Money SHARMA

According to Hindu mythology, gods and demons fought a war over a sacred pitcher containing the nectar of immortality. Drops fell at four different locations, which now alternate as hosts for the immense gatherings.

Kumbh Mela is recognised as a piece of intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO, and its last edition — in Allahabad in 2019 — attracted around 55 million people over 48 days.

This year, beginning Thursday, Haridwar is the host, and several million people are expected to throng the holy city in Uttarakhand state over the coming seven weeks.

– ‘Not like Europe’ –

Taking a dip in the Ganges is considered a sacred rite by Hindus, who come from across India and beyond its borders to participate.

Holy men known as sadhus — boasting outrageous dreadlocks and smoking cannabis — are a regular feature at the Kumbh Mela, camping by the river and offering blessings to those who come for the holy immersion.

On Wednesday, the river’s banks teemed with pilgrims and vendors while families laid out plastic sheets to put their belongings on while they took turns to plunge in the river.

Coronavirus fails to deter India’s massive Ganges pilgrimage

A family takes selfies on the banks of the Ganges © AFP / Money SHARMA

Most were oblivious to the threat of coronavirus.

“India is not like Europe… when it comes to immunity we are better,” said 50-year-old pilgrim Sanjay Sharma.

“It’s really sad to see people not gathering at Kumbh Read More…