Lakhs of pilgrims took the holy dip at Gangasagar on Makar Sankranti at the confluence of River Ganga and the Bay of Bengal and offered prayers at the Kapil Muni temple in Sagar Island on Thursday, West Bengal minister Subrata Mukherjee said. According to the Hindu calendar, the holy dip on Makar Sankranti is scheduled from 6.02 am on Thursday to 6.02 am on Friday.
After following the rituals, most of the pilgrims have started their journey back home, the state panchayat minister told a press conference at the fairground. Mukherjee said that 15.5 lakh pilgrims took the holy dip over the last few days till Thursday amid COVID-19 safety protocols being maintained by the police and volunteers.
He said that 10.90 lakh people underwent screening test for coronavirus and another 36,600 pilgrims were subjected to rapid antigen test. Of these people, only six have tested positive for the virus and they are under treatment, the minister said adding that the patients are doing fine.
“So far, more than two lakh people have availed the facility of e-snan (e-bathing) and around 51 lakh people from across the country have opted for e-darshan (e-visit),” he said. The West Bengal government has made an arrangement to provide ‘e-snan’ kit – a small container with the holy water of Gangasagar – to pilgrims at the fair site in Sagar Island for free and for a nominal fee to people who order for it from other places.
The pandemic led to a low turnout, the minister said, adding that all arrangements for a safe pilgrimage were made by the state government. Mukherjee said that pilgrims were provided with face masks and hand sanitiser in addition to other measures taken in keeping with a Calcutta High Court order to ensure that COVID-19 safety protocols are maintained.
The Calcutta High Court had on Wednesday allowed the Gangasagar Mela to be held this year while asking the West Bengal government to pursue pilgrims to opt for ‘e-snan’ to avoid crowding for the holy dip in view of the pandemic. The Director of Health Services of the state government has, in a report to the high court, said that the risk of Covid-19 transmission through bathing in flowing water like a river or saline water in a sea is extremely low.
He said that as a measure of abundant precaution, pilgrims were to be allowed to go for a dip in a staggered manner maintaining safe distance between one another.