For the first time in perhaps centuries, the Kumbh Mela 2021 of Haridwar will require devotees to acquire a pass to attend the mega religious event, arguably the biggest of its kind in the world.
The major Hindu pilgrimage event that takes place after a cycle of few-years on the banks of the three holy rivers will be restricted in numbers, Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat told the reporters on Friday.
“Passes will be issued to devotees as the congregation will be numerically restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Rawat said in a virtual interaction from the state, news agency PTI reports.
No mentions about the maximum threshold of devotees, and the nuances of qualifying for the pass was given in the virtual announcement by the CM.
The CM said it was necessary to employ the pass-for-attendance system if the number of people who would attend the mass congregation must be restricted.
There is no record in the history of the congregation where passes were handed out to devotees who want to attend the mega event.
With the roots of the fair tracing far back to the 8th Century (not as Kumbh Mela), the ‘world’s biggest peaceful congregation’ has been historically open to all, irrespective of religion with no registration in place.
Taking place after a 6 or 12 years cycle, the Kumbh Mela is often called the world’s largest religious festival and is in the list of UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In 2001, 60 million Hindus attended the Kumbh Mela. Haridwar’s version of the Mela (fair) is the second largest after the Prayag Kumbh. In 2019 February, 50 million people attended the fair, while 30 million joined the event in the 2013 Kumbh fair.
According to the Uttarakhand CM, the saints and seers associated with the even agreed with the idea of numerically restricting the number of devotees for the event to curb the spread of the virus.
India, which is a land of countless religious events, had to mold its public religious events to meet the restrictions imposed for the pandemic, which has affected over 5 million in the country so far, the second worst-affected in the world.
This year’s Puri Rath Yatra, also a historic event, was numerically restricted by a Supreme Court order which normatively involves millions gathering on the streets of the holy town of Puri to ferry Lord Jagganath from one place to another on huge chariots.
All throughout 2020, local government orders barred other public religious festivities from different communities that dot the yearly calendar, all under the common goal to prevent the spread of COVID-19 which is highly contagious.
In the wake of no vaccines available as of yet, local governments and healthcare authorities have the social distancing protocols in place as the best tool to further prevent the contagion, that has so far affected 30 million globally and upended nearly 1 million lives around the world.