India Hindu Festival as 3 million Defy COVID Rules

SAGAR ISLAND, INDIA — 

Drones sprayed holy water from the Ganges on thousands of Hindu pilgrims on Friday to reduce crowding during a massive festival being held despite soaring COVID-19 cases in India.

The Gangasagar Mela in the east of the country has drawn comparisons with another “superspreader” Hindu gathering last year that the Hindu nationalist government refused to ban. It was blamed in part for a devastating COVID surge.

Officials had said they expected around 3 million people — including ash-smeared, dreadlocked ascetics — to attend the festival’s climax on Sagar Island, where the Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal.

“At the crack of dawn, there was a sea of people,” local official Bankim Hazra told AFP by telephone.

“Holy water from the river Ganges was sprayed from drones on pilgrims … to prevent crowding,” he said.

“But the saints and a large number of people were bent on taking the dip… Pilgrims, most of them without masks, outnumbered the security personnel.”

An AFP photographer said that there were fewer people than in recent years and that rain put off some pilgrims from making the journey.

But there were still huge crowds, mostly without masks, taking a holy dip in the river.

A police official on duty at the event said that it was “impossible” to enforce COVID restrictions.

“Most pilgrims are bent on defying the rules,” he said.

Drones Spray Holy Water at India Hindu Festival as Crowds Defy COVID Rules

Drones Spray Holy Water at India Hindu Festival as Crowds Defy COVID Rules