Published: 21 Dec, 2018 Vishwajit Sharma
Kumbh Mela, the largest religious gathering in the world, attracts millions of Hindus. Besides being the largest congregation on earth, it was also included in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2017 by UNESCO. Throughout the world, this largest religious fair has continued to fascinate and astound tourists with its sheer size and scale, with an accommodation capacity of more than 1 million permanent residents (those who stay throughout the festival) and almost 80 million pilgrims. One can get an idea of the size of the sacred Hindu fair by the fact that preparations for it begin two to three months before its commencement.
However, according to a study by Government of India, Ministry of Resources, this is also the time when the River Ganges witnesses a dramatic increase in pollution levels, most of which can be attributed to bathing and open defecation. Another factor which contributes to the rise in River Ganga’s pollution levels is the shaving by thousands of sadhus. This ritual has been linked with various blood-borne diseases. It’s of the utmost importance that devotees visiting Kumbh Mela observe environmental, and river-friendly practices. Cleanliness begets godliness!
What is Kumbh Mela?
It is the largest religious gathering in the world which is held over a period of 55 days. During this religious gathering, millions of Hindus gather from all over India to observe religious rituals, customs and practices. Celebrated 4 times over a period of 12 years, it is held in a rotation between the 4 pilgrimage sites in Hinduism. The Mela has its origins in a mythological tale which depicts the struggle between the gods and demons over a pot of nectar.
The fair is marked by religious processions, chanting of Vedic hymns, aartis, bathing in the sacred river (depending on the location) and other such activities. The festival is marked by the observance of religious traditions and rituals, social norms and practices, all of which come together to make it a magnificent spectacle.
What are the types of Kumbh Mela?
It can be classified into the following types: the Maha Kumbh Mela and Ardh Kumbh Mela. Maha Kumbh Mela is held once every 12 years, while the Ardh Kumbh Mela is held every 6 years in the city of Allahabad and Haridwar. The fair is held 4 times over the course of 12 years in the 4 holiest pilgrimage sites for Hindus: Nashik in Maharashtra (banks of Godavari River), Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh (Shipra River), Haridwar in Uttarakhand (Holy Ganges) and Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh (confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers).
What are the dates for Kumbh Mela 2019?
The next mela will be held in the city of Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, from 14th January to 4th March.
How is River Ganges affected by pollution during Kumbh Mela?
Millions of Hindus, driven by religious fervour, attend this religious. The largest congregation in the world is a sight to behold! However, it comes at a great price, which is a drastic increase in the pollution levels of River Ganga. The impact of millions of people bathing in the river, combined with the practice of open defecation, has a devastating effect on the river, enough to ring alarm bells! Some of the reasons behind the drastic increase in pollution levels during the fair are:
- Use of plastic bags, soaps and detergents by the pilgrims visiting Kumbh Mela.
- Shaving by sadhus as part of their initiation process. This practice has also been linked to blood borne diseases, according to a scientific report published on sciencedirect.com. The report also states that there is a drastic increase in enteral and diarrhoeal diseases during the fair, both clearly attributable to unsanitary practices.
- Practicing open defecation
- Use of plastic bags (although not exclusive to the fair, it does play its harmful part in large measure)
The entire situation is all the more alarming because the River Ganga finds itself choked with pollutants (both chemical and human), throughout the year. Add to that the increase in pollution levels during the fair, and you have a river crying for help desperately! Certainly, religious traditions and environmental concern go hand in hand, and one is incomplete without the other. Responsible tourism is the need of the hour!
The impact on health due to pollutants during Kumbh Mela
It’s not just the environment which bears the brunt of pollution during this large religious gathering in India. The devotees too, fall prey to several diseases, all of which can be traced back to unsanitary practices.
- For example, a report by the Harvard School of Public Health reported a 5% increase in diarrhea related disease during the Kumbh Mela 2013.
- Further, it was also reported that, just after two days of the main bathing day, cases of non-bloody diarrhea had also increased significantly in the same year.
- Cases of upper respiratory tract infections and cough had reached an all-time high. The rise in respiratory illnesses could be attributed to the use of “choolah” (device on which food is cooked with coal or wood).
- During the period of the Mela, 78% of people were affected by sleep disturbances while 76% of people had concentration related difficulties due to noise pollution.
Measures taken during Ardh Kumbh Mela 2019
Various measures are being taken by the government in collaboration with various NGOs, schools and colleges in Allahabad, to ensure that there is a minimum impact of pollution on the River Ganges during Ardh Kumbh Mela 2019. Apart from the state playing its part to ensure a clean fair as part of a larger vision of Swachh Bharat, it is the individual’s duty and responsibility to become a responsible tourist and ensure that safe, hygienic and healthy practices environmentally during this year’s fair.
- Around 2,75,000 community toilets and 20,000 community urinals will also be built to ensure that people refrain from urinating in the open.
- Almost 16,000 dustbins are being installed at regular intervals to ensure the proper disposal of waste.
- In addition, an awareness campaign will also be held to educate and inform people about the importance of proper waste management.
- Other steps being taken towards a clean Ganga is the installation of eco-friendly toilets, efficient water filtration systems and burying of human waste in the ground.
Role of devotees in ensuring cleanliness
Devotees play a major role when it comes to ensuring proper cleanliness and hygienic practices during Ardh Kumbh Mela 2019. Some of the healthy travel tips for a clean & safe Kumbh:
- Bathe in areas identified by the Mela administration
- Avoid littering on streets and pavements
- Use dustbins for disposing waste
- Avoid using detergents or soap for bathing, washing or cleaning clothes.
- Desist from the use of plastic bags
- Say no to open defecation
An appeal towards an environmentally friendly Kumbh Mela
Are you headed for the Ardh Kumbh Mela to be held in Prayagraj in 2019? Ensure that you do your best and take appropriate steps towards clean Kumbh. Take a pledge, and make a promise to yourself, of observing clean and hygienic practices during the spiritual fair and respecting the environment. For, there can be no salvation without a clean environment! Let your dip of holiness be a dip of cleanliness!
Writing, for me, is an artistic expression of the countless thoughts flooding my mind. For now, travel content writing is what keeps me going! In my spare time, I like nothing better than immersing myself in a book, along with a cuppa! A classic movie helps too! I define traveling as a process of self-discovery. Hailing from Darjeeling, my ultimate desire is to escape to the hills, with the mountain air and solitude as my constant companions!