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Hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims have begun descending on the banks of the Ganges, India’s sacred river, for the giant Kumbh Mela festival - with many apparently trusting in faith rather than masks to shield them against the coronavirus pandemic during the giant.
According to AFP, up to one million people were expected in the city of Haridwar for the first day of the pilgrimage. India has the world’s second highest number of cases of coronavirus, more than 10 million, and has recorded more than 150,000 deaths from the pandemic.
Most of the people who walked into the revered but freezing river in the morning mist did not have masks and did not abide by social distancing advice.
“The pandemic is a bit of a worry, but we are taking all precautions,” an organiser Siddharth Chakrapani, was quoted as saying by AFP. “I’m sure Maa Ganga will take care of their safety,” he added, referring to the Hindu goddess of forgiveness and purification.
Kumbh Mela is recognised as a cultural heritage by UNESCO, and its last edition - in Allahabad in 2019 - attracted around 55 million people over 48 days. Taking a dip in the Ganges is considered a sacred rite by Hindus, who come from across India and beyond its borders to participate.
Good morning world, this is Damien Gayle picking up the blog in rainy, cold London, where the first whistles of birdsong are piercing the darkness and the news juggernaut is coughing and spluttering into life for another day.
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