Kumbh gears up for a sea of devotees
Early morning, just after sunrise, the water looks like liquid gold at Sangam. It’s cold, the water colder. At the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the vanished Saraswati, though, unperturbed people bathe under the watchful eyes of the jal (water) police and a Modi cut-out.
From January 15 to March 4, an estimated 130-140 million pilgrims and tourists are expected to do the same during the Kumbh Mela. For the devout, a holy dip will rid them of their sins.
The term Kumbh is contested. Some insist that the 2019 event is Ardh Kumbh, in accordance with the traditional alternating cycle of Kumbh and Ardh Kumbh every six years. But last year UP government rechristened Ardh Kumbh as Kumbh. Kumbh henceforth will be officially be known as Mahakumbh. Interestingly, Modi had described the event as “Ardh Kumbh” in a December 16 speech.
Renaming is the flavour of the season; till last month, Allahabad was the town’s name. The renaming, especially of the festival, is argued even at the ghat. But there’s unanimity that the scale of arrangement is unprecedented. In 2013, the mela was spread over 1,700 hectares; this time it is 3,200. The budget for 2019 is Rs 4,300 crore; it was reportedly about a third in 2013.
For the government, sanitation seems to be a key area. “In all, 1,22,500 toilets, including 20,000 septic tank toilets, are being laid out,” says AP Paliwal, additional director for health and sanitation (mela). He talks about an elaborate mechanised system of compactors and tippers for solid waste management. “We don’t want a single drop of sewage to pollute the river.”
Using drones for surveillance, carrying out mock anti-terror drills and setting up an integrated command and control centre with 1,100 cameras for real-time feed — the BJP government is keen to project Kumbh as a safe and efficiently-managed, high-tech event. Digital screens across the city show films on Kumbh day and night.
The rest of the city is also getting ready. Broken pavements have either been or are being repaired and upgraded. “Earlier, Allahabad had an airstrip. Now it has a full-fledged terminal,” says Ashish Kumar Goyal, commissioner, Allahabad. (With inputs from Kapil Dixit)
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Devotees from across the country gathering at the Sangam for first Shahi Snan of Kumbh 2019