Drones sprayed the holy water of the Ganges on thousands of pilgrims on Friday to try to contain a crowd gathered for the Hindu festival Gangasagar Mela, in eastern India, which can become a dangerous spreader of covid-19.
The authorities have already admitted that they will not be able to contain the pilgrims, mostly without masks, who go to sacrificial ritual baths in the river.
“Most of the pilgrims are willing to defy the rules” anticovid, says a police officer. “They believe that God will save them and that bathing in the tributary (of the Ganges) will purify them of all their sins, even the virus if they are contaminated,” he adds.
Although the omicron variant is spreading rapidly in India, a Calcutta court last week authorized the Gangasagar Mela to be held on Sagar Island at the mouth of the Ganges, in the state of West (East) Bengal.
Up to three million Hindu pilgrims are expected to flock to the island this Friday.
“Since dawn, there was already an ocean of people,” a local official, Bankim Hazra, said by phone. “Sacred water from the Ganges was sprayed by drones on the pilgrims (…) to contain the crowd.”
“But the sadhus (ascetics with the body covered with ashes and the head of dreadlocks, ndlr) and a large number of people prefer to stay to take a bath,” he adds.
On Friday, India registered more than 260,000 new infections and 315 deaths in 24 hours.
At the peak of the pandemic, last May, this country of 1.3 billion inhabitants registered more than 400,000 new contaminations, and some 4,000 deaths daily, amid traumatic scenes in hospitals, overflowing with dying patients.
That terrifying epidemic wave occurred after the Kumbh Mela festival, one of the largest religious congregations in the world, which was attended by some 25 million Hindus.
Like the Kumbh Mela, the Gangasagar Mela attracts worshipers from all over North India, who travel aboard crowded trains, buses and boats to reach the island.