Mahakumbh melas, the biggest religious congregations on the planet, help people seek spiritual upliftment. The preparation of the Mahakumbh 2021 in Haridwar is in full swing and is also changing the face of the sacred city.
The upcoming Mahakumbh, scheduled from January till April 2021, is being keenly awaited by pilgrims, seers and people, given it is being held after twelve years.
It is also ushering in development, infrastructural projects, amenities and facilities both on a permanent and temporary basis.
Almost 70-85 per cent specific Kumbh budget allocated by the Central government is spent on permanent nature works like construction of bridges, Ganga ghats, roads, flyovers, expansion of Kumbh mela zone area and so on. While temporary works include setting up of temporary mela base camp at Bairagi Camp, restricted Kumbh land for seers, Akhadas, religious organisation pontiffs and also for Kumbh mela administration personnel, particularly for Kumbh Force comprising Uttarakhand police and central para-military forces personnel.
How Kumbh prep is changing the face of Haridwar
Digging work across the city for laying piped natural gas pipeline, underground electricity cable, sewer lines, broadening of national highway-58, construction of bridges over Ganga, flyovers, underpasses, railway line broadening is going on at present. Authorities says all works will be completed by December end.
Every six years, Haridwar gets a facelift due to Mahakumbh and Ardh Kumbh fairs which are being held for centuries. During the previous Ardh Kumbh in 2016, a budget of Rs 258 crores was earmarked for various development works. Prominent among them was the construction of four new bridges at Har-Ki-Pauri, Chintamani Ashram, Laltarau and Jwalapur, providing easier connectivity of the city to both sides of the Ganga canal.
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Sewer connectivity has strengthened and this time it is being taken up across municipal corporation wards and suburban Jwalapur to saint dominated clusters of Bhoopatwala-Khadkhadi-Neel Dhara-Saptsarovar where temples, ashrams, maths and dharamshalas are in abundance.
Haridwar, during Mahakumbh, will be the first city in Uttarakhand to be free of hanging electric wires and poles as the underground power cable project is also in its last phase. Also, over a thousand odd households have been connected with piped natural gas (PNG) making LPG cylinders a thing of the past for them. Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) has been carrying out the project in Haridwar city and its expected to get completed in the coming months.
2010 vs 2021
Initial assistance of Rs 365 crores from the Central government for Mahakumbh fair led to the start of multiple construction related works with major focus on permanent nature works.
During 2010 Mahakumbh, 3,310 metre of new Ganga ghats were constructed while this time five new Ganga ghats are being developed.
Similarly, one single major steel girder span bridge was built in 2010 Mahakumbh near British era Damkoti guesthouse on Mayapur regulator for Rs 4.34 crore.
This time, three major bridges are being built on the Ganga river and canal. New Dhanauri bridge, for Rs 6.8 crores, will replace more than 150-year-old British era bridge which is in dilapidated condition and provides easier access and exit to Haridwar city from Bhagwanpur-Kaliyar-Roorkee side.
The 2010 Kumbh also saw the construction of a two-storey parking lot opposite to Har-Ki-Pauri with a capacity of 800 vehicles.
At Jagjeetpur village near Matri Sadan ashram, a new bridge is being constructed at a cost of Rs 5.52 crore, providing connectivity to Bairagi Kumbh camp area with Kankhal. Within a kilometre, the third bridge is being built at Dakshdeep-Bairagi camp stretch on Ganga canal by Public Work Department (PWD).
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Temporary nature works – like setting up of tents for akhadas, seers and in particular for mela force, state police and personnel of paramilitary forces – will begin by next month.
Also, in a first, this Mahakumbh will witness temples, ashrams, dharamshalas, hotels in Haridwar coloured in saffron and yellow colors.
“Single colour code will give a unique and spiritual aura to Har-Ki-Pauri and core mela zone in Haridwar in sync with the religious aura of the pilgrim city during Mahakumbh,” said additional district magistrate Kumbh mela Harbeer Singh.
When Kumbh mela related works commenced a year ago, it was expected the budget would cross the previous Rs 655 crore sanctioned for 2010 Mahakumbh. But with the Covid-19 pandemic, both the budget and spread of multiple infrastructure-related works were affected.
While before the Covid-19 epidemic, over 12 crore pilgrims and tourists were expected to participate in the Mahakumbh, now the state government will take final a decision on the number of pilgrims for the first Shahi Snaan (royal bath) on Maha Shivratri in February, which drew nearly four to five million devotees in 2010. In all, 8.5 crore pilgrims had arrived in 2010 Mahakumbh in Haridwar.
The apex body of akhadas, the Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad has also agreed for a restrictive or mild Mahakumbh fair if the epidemic continues till February.
“We want preparations to be done at a grand scale but simultaneously we have apprised the Uttarakhand government and Kumbh mela administration that, if need be, only two or five seers from each of thirteen akhadas will take the sacred Ganga dip during three Shahi Snaan in Mahakumbh. But we are hopeful, Covid containment will be done and the fair will be open for all,” said Akhada Parishad general secretary Mahant Hari Giri Maharaj.
Should Kumbh be “restrictive”?
With permanent nature works in the last phase, mela officials, saints, akhada office-bearers, local priests are discussing whether Mahakumbh 2021 will be grander affair than 2010 or due to Covid-19 restrictions, it will be curtailed to a normal event.
Urban development cabinet Minister Madan Kaushik, who is Haridwar city legislator, pointed that the state government will take a final call on Kumbh mela guidelines in February-March taking into consideration Covid-19 spread, containment in Uttarakhand and other states, as well as standard operating guidelines for mass religious events of Central government.
“As of now, mela administration is carrying out works keeping in mind a full-fledged Kumbh fair and there is some time before three Shahi Snaan near when actual picture will get clearer,” said Madan Kaushik, who was in-charge cabinet minister in 2010 Mahakumbh.
“Currently, we are focusing on completing the Kumbh preparations that are of a permanent nature. Without proper infrastructure, the fair can’t be held properly. We have to utilise the Kumbh budget being allocated by the government to the fullest. Later, after assessing the situation and government guidelines, we’ll formulate ways to hold the event in a manner that is safe for pilgrims and visitors,” said Lalit Narayan Mishra, additional district magistrate, Kumbh mela.