In view of the rapid surge in Covid-19 cases in the sadhu community at the Maha Kumbh, Haridwar, akhadas have started exiting the grand pilgrimage.
Niranjani Akhada, one of the 13 akhadas of seers, and the second most powerful after the Juna akahada, has announced the decision to conclude the Kumbh on Saturday, nearly two weeks before the scheduled close.
Secretary of Niranjani Akhara, Ravindra Puri, said, “Given the situation of the pandemic in Haridwar, we have taken the decision to conclude the Kumbh on April 17. Regarding the shahi snan on April 27, we will take steps in accordance to the decision of Akhada Parishad. A bunch of sadhus will participate in the fourth shahi snan from our akhada.”
There are over 13 akharas and lakhs of seers associated with them. Several seers have tested positive amid the ongoing Kumbh Mela. Thirty sadhus participating in the mega Kumbh Mela, including Mahant Narendra Giri, the leader of the All India Akhada Parishad, are said to have tested positive for Covid-19 so far. Swami Kapil Dev from Madhya Pradesh, who was the leader of the Maha Nirvani Akhada, died while being treated for a coronavirus infection at a private hospital in Dehradun.
"Till now, 30 sadhus have tested positive for COVID-19. The cases are not in any specific akhada. There are cases in almost all the akhadas, including Niranjini, Juna and others," said Dr SK Jha, Haridwar Chief Medical Officer.
The Kumbh Mela began on April 1 and will conclude this month-end. On April 14, the day of the Baisakhi shahi snan, which is considered one of the most auspicious days of the Kumbh, close 9,43,452 devotees took a dip in the Ganges. The next significant Kumbh day is on April 27.
Despite Niranjani Akhara’s statement, the Uttarakhand cabinet minister Bansidhar Bhagat had said the Kumbh would continue.
Defending the crowd and the immense religious congregation, UP BJP leader Sunil Bharala, while addressing a media organisation said that he had attended the mela even though he had tested Covid positive. According to the leader, faith and religious beliefs were above all Covid norms and guidelines. He also claimed that “Ganga ma” would fight the virus.
The decision to proceed with the Haridwar mega Kumbh even as the deadly novel Coronavirus continued to plague the country had raised several eyebrows with medical experts and opposition leaders warning of the event turning into a ‘superspreader’.
While the Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat claimed that guidelines, which include the use of face masks and social distancing were followed, the Tirath Singh Rawat-led government imposed a night curfew from Thursday night in the entire state. The Chief Minister will take a stock of the Covid-19 situation on Friday evening to take a call on weekend curfew and stringent night curfew.
The Kumbh Mela began on April 1 and will conclude this month-end. The Kumbh Mela is a four-month gathering but the duration of the congregation has been curtailed to one month this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In normal circumstances, the event which comes once in approximately 12 years, is held from mid-January to April.