Saturday, November 14, 2020

One of the world's largest religious gatherings is moving ahead as planned

The organizers of India’s Magh Mela, which usually draws 10 million Hindus, know how to handle the health of a crowd. Still, this pandemic will test them.

In 2014, Hindu devotees crowd the confluence of three holy rivers—the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati—to bathe in the waters. Every year, millions of Hindus pilgrims travel to the Indian city of Prayagraj (formerly known as Allahabad) for this religious observance, which is called Magh Mela. Photograph by Rajesh Kumar Singh, AP

Laura Spinney
National Geographic

The Magh Mela, the annual Hindu pilgrimage to Prayagraj, India, usually attracts around 10 million people. Officials announced last month that it will go ahead as planned this winter—despite the country’s high number of new COVID-19 cases.

Hindus regard Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad) as a place of great cosmic significance. Three holy rivers are said to converge there: the Ganges and the Yamuna, as well as a third, mythical river called the Saraswati. Pilgrims come to bathe in the sacred waters and cleanse themselves of their sins, hoping to achieve moksha—liberation from the cycle of rebirth. Even during the pandemic, many believers will feel drawn to attend.

Governments and religious leaders around the world have struggled over how to handle major faith observances and rituals this year. Christians limited celebrations of Easter and Jews, of the High Holidays. As few as 1,000 Muslims attended the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, rather than the usual two million.  Read more >>