Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years in the northern city of Allahabad (recently renamed Prayagraj) is set to begin on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, and expects a footfall of about 120 million Hindus between now and March.
Billed as the largest religious gathering in the world, crores of devotees will undertake a pilgrimage over the next 50 days, to take a dip in the confluence (Sangam) of Ganga, Yamuna, and mythical river Saraswati. In Hinduism, this is believed to cleanse all sin and grant deliverance or moksha.
A 3,200-acre temporary city has been set up on the mudflats of the river banks, housing modern amenities for the Kumbh Mela including AI technology for better crowd management and a transgender akhara which led their first ever Devatva Yatra in Allahabad earlier this week.
Listed below are some of the measures adopted by the UP government this year.
- The Mela authority has installed 1.22 lakh eco-friendly toilets across the fairground and plastered hoardings urging people to use them instead of defecating or urinating in the river. This takes precedence in light of the ongoing agitations for and the government’s lackadaisical efforts in cleaning the Ganges.
- For the convenience of devotees, 50 Reverse Osmosis water ATMs have been installed to dispense clean drinking water. New telecommunication and banking services have also been launched for the pilgrims. Mobile hospitals and warehouses stocked with medical supplies and food are on standby.
- Roads have been widened and new flyovers have been built. In the mela ground, 300 km of roads have been laid. Huge car parks have been set up all around the city to accommodate more than half a million vehicles. To ferry pilgrims to, from and around the premises, over 1500 autorickshaws and 524 buses are on standby, new trains have been introduced to tackle the rush. And if that wasn’t enough, the city also boasts of a brand new airport that allows visitors to fly in from Delhi in less than an hour.
- The tent city boasts of a whole retinue of luxurious akharas or lodges, around 42,000 5-star tents, high-tech lost-and-found kiosks, along with a network of CCTV tech for the well-being, safety
andsecurity of pilgrims. The state government has deployed 1,500 Swachhagrahis to monitor all the public facilities and accommodations.
- Stepping up security measures, 1,400 CCTV cameras will monitor the crowd, along with 40,000 Radio Frequency Tags to locate lost children. Adityanath has also asked for 40,000 street-lights to be installed in the city, besides chalking out elaborate security arrangements involving police officials and intelligence agencies.
- In a first, Artificial Intelligence will be used by the Integrated Command and Control Centre of the police wherein the security personnel can monitor the visuals of crowd movement and assess the crowd size. Traffic management at Kumbh will also be integrated with Google maps to ensure coordination of traffic movement on multiple channels.
- Several arrangements have been made at the Ghats for devotees taking the holy dip. Many pilgrims bathed at the Triveni Sangam on the eve of the inauguration, which coincided with the occasion of Makar Sankranti.
However, despite such extensive arrangements, a fire broke out at a camp in Digambar Akhara at Prayagraj on Monday. Local reports suggest a cylinder blast caused it although it was brought under control quickly without resulting in any injuries or casualties. Around 10 ambulances and an air ambulance were immediately sent to the spot. Adityanath has ordered the fire department to inspect all the camps.
For beautification, the city of Prayagraj underwent a complete makeover in the weeks before the Mela. “Intersections, flyovers, buildings & walls of Prayagraj are being painted, under ‘Paint my city’ initiative of Kumbh Mela Authority to beautify the city ahead of #KumbhMela2019. More than 1000 artists, of 5 agencies
Coming to brass tacks
This year’s festival is an “ardh Kumbh,” a mid-term version between two Kumbhs, although the scale of preparations does nothing to suggest its diminutive status in the scheme of Melas. In fact, it’s much bigger than the last full Kumbh held in 2013, which was moreover, a Maha Kumbh taking place every 144 years.
According to national media, this year’s Kumbh has been provided a total outlay of Rs 2,800-4,300 crore from the state government budget for the facilities listed above, although BBC reports that the budget for hosting this year’s festival is Rs. 28 billion.
The mini city that has been set up across 3200 acres is double the area of the last Kumbh, according to Awanish Kumar Awasthi, Additional Chief Secretary, Information and Tourism in the Uttar Pradesh government. Some 6,000 religious and cultural
UNESCO describes the event as the biggest “peaceful congregation of pilgrims on earth,” which begs the question why such elaborate and expensive security measures are required.
However, the upgrade in security this year might help ensure that Kinnar saints of the Vedic Sanatan Dharma aren’t heckled. Kinnars or hijras have always reserved a special place in Hinduism although this is the first time transgender devotees and patron saints have been given a space at the Kumbh Mela. But not everyone is happy about sharing the space with them, especially since the umbrella
In case the event wasn’t already
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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