The last shahi snan at the Kumbh Mela is likely to be “symbolic”, with minimum participation by sadhus, soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi Saturday said he had appealed to the akhadas to minimise the numbers amidst rising Covid cases in Uttarakhand.
“Today I had a telephonic conversation with Acharya Mahamandaleshwar Poojya Swamy Avdheshanand Giri Ji. I asked about the health of all the Sants. I thanked the Sant Samaj for their full cooperation with the administration. It is my request to keep Kumbh symbolic from now on as two Shahi Snans have already taken place. This will strengthen the fight against the pandemic,” Modi tweeted.
Soon after, the Juna Akhada, the most influential among all the 13 akhadas, said it had decided to “conclude” the Kumbh for its associated sadhus and followers. Spokesperson Mahant Narayan Giri told The Sunday Express, “In a meeting of Juna Akhada office-bearers today, it was decided to conclude Kumbh for our akhada… Humne Kumbh ka visarjan ka diya hai.”
Giri added that sadhus who had come from other districts and states had been urged to return. “Decision on participation in the April 27 shahi snan will be taken at a meeting on April 26,” he said, adding that only two sadhus from each akhada will symbolically participate in that royal dip.
At a press conference in Haridwar, Swami Avdheshanand Giri of the Juna Akhada said he had spoken to the PM and Home Minister Amit Shah, and that barring Bairagis, the other akhadas would only take part symbolically in the remaining shahi snan. Avdheshanand also appealed to people to come to the Kumbh in limited numbers and follow Covid protocols.
The PM had tagged Swami Avdheshanand and Acharya Mahamandleshwar of the Juna Akhada in his tweet.
Uttarakhand, that has been seeing a Covid surge in the past week, reported 2,757 new cases on Saturday, with 17 deaths. It now has 13,546 active cases; with the highest in Dehradun (5,617) followed by Haridwar (3,965), the site of the Kumbh Mela. Dehradun saw 1,179 new cases on Saturday. At least 59 sadhus are among those who have tested positive so far, including the president of the Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad, while one senior akhada member has died.
On Thursday, the Uttarakhand government restricted gatherings at religious, social, and political events to 200 people, exempting Kumbh. The two previous shahi snans saw crowds go up to 32 lakh.
On Friday, the Niranjani Akhada and Taponidhi Shri Anand Panchayati Akhada had announced symbolic participation at the April 27 shahi snan, and urged their followers to leave the Mela and quarantine at their ashrams.
The Juna Akhada changed its stand a day after a video surfaced of Narayan Giri saying the Kumbh will continue till May 26, as scheduled, with all sadhus staying on. He had said there was no need to panic about Covid-19 because a pandemic outbreak happens every 100 years, adding, “Death is certain but traditions have to be followed.”