Haridwar: Devotees gather to offer prayers during the third Shahi Snan of the Kumbh Mela 2021, at Har ki Pauri Ghat in Haridwar, Wednesday, April 14, 2021.
Haridwar: Devotees gather to offer prayers during the third Shahi Snan of the Kumbh Mela 2021, at Har ki Pauri Ghat in Haridwar, Wednesday, April 14, 2021.
(PTI Photo)

Contrary to a report published earlier, the mega Kumbh Mela at Hardiwar will continue till April 30, officials told NDTV. According to the earlier report, the decision to close the world's biggest religious festival was taken after discussions were held between the Uttarakhand government and religious leaders. However, the officials have denied any such move to wrap up the event two weeks early. The officials also said that no discussions have taken place and the Kumbh Mela would continue uninterrupted.

Under normal circumstances, the Kumbh Mela continues for nearly four months but this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the duration of the congregation has been curtailed to one month. This year it is scheduled to be held from April 1 to April 30.

As per reports, hundreds of devotees at the site of the world's biggest religious festival tested positive for COVID-19. The virus was detected in more than 1,000 people in just 48 hours in the city of Haridwar, which lies along the holy river where the Kumbh Mela is being observed, officials told AFP.

Shahi snan in Haridwar: Lakhs ignore COVID-19 concerns to take holy dip

Throwing caution to the wind amid rising cases of coronavirus, thousands of seers congregated on Wednesday at Har ki Pairi in Haridwar to take a dip in the Ganga during the third shahi snan of the Kumbh Mela.

The 'royal bath' marked Mesh Sankranti and Baisakhi, and fell two days after a similar convergence of 'sadhus' and other devotees for the second shahi snan -- events where following social distancing norms appears almost impossible.

By noon between eight and 10 lakh people had taken a bath in the river, Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar, who was supervising the arrangements at Haridwar, said.

He said the crowds at the Ganga ghats were much smaller than expected at the third shahi snan - considered the most important in the series - and attributed this to the COVID-19 restrictions in place.

Police personnel were seen distributing masks among people in the Mela area. However, social distancing norms were violated openly by the seers when they and their followers descended the steps at Har ki Pairi to wade into the river, reported news agency PTI. No masks were worn by a large proportion of them, it added.

Social media draws parallels between Kumbh Mela and the Tablighi Jamaat congregation:

The shahi snans, and the Kumb Mela have raised concerns over their role in possibly adding to rising coronavirus cases in the country. Many on social media are drawing parallels between the mega Kumbh Mela at Haridwar and the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Delhi's Nizamuddin Markaz last year.

However, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat on Tuesday defended the situation staunchly. "Markaz was in a closed hall. All the people slept in a single hall with close contacts. They shared blankets. On the contrary, there are 16 ghats in Kumbh. Not just Haridwar, Kumbh is spread from Rishikesh to Nilkanth. Devotees take bath in different ghats at different times," Rawat contended.

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