Several safety arrangements are being made to host the Ganga-Sagar Mela amid the COVID-19 pandemic, besides the authorities are also planning to send the holy water to the devotees by post and live-stream the rituals, a senior official said on Saturday. Every year on Makar Sankranti, lakhs of Hindus flock the Sagar Island in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district to take the holy dip and offer prayers at the Kapil Muni temple.
This January, around 50 lakh people visited the mela, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic the authorities expect the number of devotees to go down drastically, said P Ulaganathan, the district magistrate of South 24 Parganas. The administration has decided to live-stream the rituals on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube so that the devotees can witness them from home, he said.
Also, the devotees can get the holy water delivered to their homes if they book in advance, he said. Several arrangements are also being made for those who will visit the mela, Ulaganathan said.
COVID safety protocols will be put in place, he said. Thermal scanners will be put up in railway stations, bus stands and ferry ghats to check the temperature of devotees on arrival, he said.
They will also have to undergo sanitisation, he said, adding that masks will be distributed among the devotees. Different NGOs and organisations will be roped in for assisting the district administration, he said.
In addition to the existing COVID hospitals, planning is underway for setting up a designated facility in Kakdwip or Sagar Island, the official said. Also, quarantine centres, safe homes and testing facilities will be set up, he said.
Devotees from different parts of the country, and neighbouring Bangladesh and Nepal, visit the Sagar Island to take holy dip at the confluence of the sacred Ganga and the Bay of Bengal on the occasion of Makar Sankranti. Makar Sankranti marks the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days.
It is known by various names in different parts of the country and in West Bengal it is celebrated as Poush Sankranti, after the Bengali month Poush. Hindus believe that taking dip at the Ganga-Sagar, the confluence of the sacred river and the sea, will help one achieve “moksha” or salvation.