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Kumbh Mela: World’s largest gathering of humanity kicks off in India

New Delhi (CNN) — The biggest pilgrimage on the planet has kicked off in India. From now until March, up to 120 million pilgrims — nearly double the population of the UK or France — are expected to descend on Prayagraj in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state for the Kumbh Mela. Considered the world’s largest…

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Kumbh Mela: World’s largest gathering of humanity kicks off in India
New Delhi (CNN) — The biggest pilgrimage on the planet has kicked off in India.

From now until March, up to 120 million pilgrims — nearly double the population of the UK or France — are expected to descend on Prayagraj in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state for the Kumbh Mela.

Considered the world’s largest gathering of humanity, it’s a two-month-long mass Hindu pilgrimage during which attendees symbolically wash off their sins.

One of the most striking sights of the festival is the “shahi,” or royal procession of the dramatic Hindu holy men known as “sadhus.”

Some are dressed in saffron, others sporting dreadlocks and smeared in ash as they make their way to the river to take their first holy dip.

“At the core of the festival are the camps of ‘sadhus’,” says James Mallinson, a senior lecturer in Sanskrit at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

“For them it’s important on an organizational level because it’s the one time they all get together. It’s the only chance for them to make big organizational decisions. At the same time, it’s a bit of a social because they won’t have seen each other (for some time).”

Hindu pilgrimage Kumbh Mela 2019

The camps of “sadhus” — holy men — are a highlight of a highlight of the Kumbh Mela.

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Bathing in the sacred waters of the “sangam,” where the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers meet, is believed to achieve “moksha,” or salvation, from the cycle of life and death.

“There are normally three or four days deemed to be particularly auspicious to wipe away your sins,” Mallinson tells CNN Travel.

“Some of the myths behind the festival say the water turns into ‘amrita,’ the nectar of immortality on those particular days. Ordinary pilgrims will also go to get the blessing or ‘darshan’ from these holy men.”

A modern mela

The logistics required to organize an event of this scale are mind-boggling.

In the months leading up to this year’s Kumbh Mela, the state government has ramped up development efforts.

A new airport was constructed to cope with the volume of passengers flying in from around the country.

Six special train services have been introduced within Uttar Pradesh to bring pilgrims from other parts of the state.

The State Transport Corporation has also deployed 6,000 buses to ferry pilgrims into and around Prayagraj (previously known as Allahabad).

Within Prayagraj itself, a new bathing area has been created, with 20 makeshift docks dotted across an eight-kilometer stretch of the river.

A sprawling tent city includes 87 colonies featuring simple tents with basic amenities for less financially able pilgrims. Each colony can host 2,000 pilgrims.

In addition, private agencies have set up around 4,000 premium tents with modern amenities in other parts of the town.

Hindu pilgrimage Kumbh Mela 2019

An Indian devotee takes a dip on the banks of the Triveni Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers.

Getty Images

Given the number of pilgrims coming into the area, safety is obviously a huge concern.

During the last Kumbh Mela held in Prayagraj , in 2013, a railroad station stampede in left 36 people dead.

More than 10,000 policemen will be patrolling the 32-square-kilometer pilgrimage site, which in turn will be monitored by over 1,000 CCTV cameras all linked back to a new state-of-the-art control room.

“Things function very smoothly. It’s only around the big bathing days that it’s very hectic. The rest of the time, it’s quite relaxed,” says Mallinson, who has visited the festival numerous times and has been ordained as a “Mahant” (chief priest), the first Westerner to receive this honor.

“When the British were in charge, there were often cholera outbreaks. Since then, the authorities have been focused on keeping it clean, tidy and putting a lot of chemicals down to stop infection. They’re very good about controlling the roads. It’s essential but it’s absolutely incredible.”

Mythological roots

Inscribed on UNESCO’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” list in 2017, the Kumbh Mela is based on Hindu mythology and a battle between Lord Vishnu, considered the protector of the universe, and demons over a pitcher containing “amrit.”

Vishnu emerged victorious, managing to take hold of the pitcher and fly off on Garuda, a large bird-like creature. According to ancient Hindu texts, as Vishnu flew away from the demons, four drops of nectar fell onto four ancient cities: Prayagraj, Nasik, Haridwar and Ujjain.

Officials expect up to 30 million devotees on February 4, the most auspicious bathing day. Known as Mauni Amavasya, this is when Rishabh Dev, considered the first sage, broke his vow of silence and bathed at the “sangam.”

The Kumbh Mela — mela means “fair” in Hindi — takes place four times within a 12-year period, alternating between four cities (Nasik, Prayagraj, Ujjain and Haridwar) every three years. The Maha (mega) Kumbh takes place in each of those cities every 12 years.

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Barbadians celebrate the birth of a republic and bid farewell to the Queen

Official festivities marking the island’s historic transition from realm to republic took place in National Heroes Square in the heart of the capital of Bridgetown. Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, had come from London for the occasion and watched as the Royal Standard flag was lowered from the flagpole and the new Presidential…

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Barbadians celebrate the birth of a republic and bid farewell to the Queen

Official festivities marking the island’s historic transition from realm to republic took place in National Heroes Square in the heart of the capital of Bridgetown. Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, had come from London for the occasion and watched as the Royal Standard flag was lowered from the flagpole and the new Presidential Standard raised in its place.

Moments later, the Queen’s own former representative, Governor-General Sandra Mason — a well-respected 73-year-old former jurist — was sworn in as President by the Chief Justice. It was exactly 55 years to the day since Barbados declared independence from Britain.

After taking in a 21-gun salute to mark the historic switch, Mason later bestowed the country’s highest-ranking honor, the Order of Freedom, upon the Prince of Wales — a move designed to highlight the continued close relationship between Barbados and the United Kingdom.

Barbados’s decision marks the first time in nearly three decades that a realm has opted to remove the British monarch as head of state. The last nation to do so was the island of Mauritius in 1992. Like that country, Barbados intends to remain part of the Commonwealth — a 54-member organization of mostly former British territories designed to foster international cooperation and trade.

Prince Charles, who had arrived late on Sunday as Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s guest of honor, told the people of Barbados it was “important” to him to witness the ceremonial changeover.

He also reaffirmed “the close and trusted partnership between Barbados and the UK as vital members of the Commonwealth.”

Some in Bridgetown, however, questioned why the Queen’s son had come at all, pointing out that the island’s historical relationship with the crown was rooted in slavery.

“No member of the royal family should participate in our major freedom day,” activist David Denny told CNN.

“The royal family benefited from slavery financially and many of our African brothers and sisters died in battle for change,” added Denny, general secretary of the Caribbean Movement for Peace and Integration.

An expedition for King James I of England claimed Barbados when his ships first arrived on its shores in 1625. A settlement was established two years later.

“It was the first laboratory for English colonialism in the tropics,” Richard Drayton, professor of imperial and global history at Kings College London, told CNN.

“Barbados also provided an important source of private wealth in 17th and 18th-century England,” he added, noting that many English families made substantial fortunes from sugar and slavery.

Entertainers perform during the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony at Heroes Square on November 29, 2021 in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Citing that history, Denny described Prince Charles’ participation as “an insult to our people” and called for financial reparations from the royal family, as well as the British government and other institutions that profited from transporting people from Africa and enslaving them on plantations across the Caribbean.

Denny said the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year “created a consciousness across the world” and sparked solidarity protests on the island. One outcome of the demonstrations: an empty plinth now sits in Bridgetown’s main square where a bronze statue of British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson — a defender of the island’s slave trade — once stood.

A stone’s throw away from the site of the ceremony in Swan Street, a popular shopping area among locals in downtown Bridgetown, many Barbadians also welcomed the change .

Roger Goodridge, a 59-year-old toy seller, described the move to a republic as “a long time coming” and said he was unsurprised by Charles’ visit.

“The time has passed for ‘Little England.’ We are now on our own and on to our biggest success — breaking the waters and moving onto another stage in our life.”

Victoria Norvill, a 16-year-old student enjoying the public holiday with some girlfriends told CNN: “I feel very good about Barbados becoming a republic because we get to be free and independent.”

Others expressed support but wondered if transition had been “a bit too fast.” The government created its 10-member group tasked with helping manage the transition from a monarchical system to a republic in May this year.

“It’s too hasty. Everyone hasn’t think about it yet and there’s so many people that don’t even know what is a republic,” said Andre Moore, 36.

“I think they should at least have taken a whole year to deal with this or at least two years. I think two years to really think about it, get the mind settled for what they have prepared for this whole republic thing.

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Tropical cyclones in Asia could have double the destructive power by the end of century, study finds

Using data from nearly four decades from 1979 to 2016, researchers found that the destructive power of tropical cyclones had dramatically increased, with stronger landfalling cyclones lasting longer and tracking further inland.The study, by researchers at the Shenzhen Institute of Meteorological Innovation and the Chinese University of Hong Kong and published in Frontiers in Earth…

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Tropical cyclones in Asia could have double the destructive power by the end of century, study finds

Using data from nearly four decades from 1979 to 2016, researchers found that the destructive power of tropical cyclones had dramatically increased, with stronger landfalling cyclones lasting longer and tracking further inland.

The study, by researchers at the Shenzhen Institute of Meteorological Innovation and the Chinese University of Hong Kong and published in Frontiers in Earth Science, said that tropical cyclones now last between two and nine hours longer and traveled an average of 100 km (62 miles) further inland than they did four decades ago.

The study looked at cyclones over east and southeast Asia and found the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi and the southern China region were hardest hit between 1979 and 2016.

Researchers also found that by the end of the century, the average landfall wind speed over Asian inland regions could increase by two meters per second, or 5 miles per hour. Small increases in top wind speeds of a cyclone can bring much higher levels of destruction.

The study suggests an average cyclone by then will last around 5 hours longer and will travel 92 kilometers (57 miles) farther inland, nearly doubling their destructive power.

Tropical cyclones are among the most dangerous natural disasters, with flooding rainfall, damaging winds and storm surge. Over the past 50 years, these cyclones have led to nearly 780,000 deaths and around $1.4 billion worth of economic losses globally.

People cross the street in the wind and rain in Ningbo on July 25, as Typhoon In-Fa lashes the east coast of China.
In June, Typhoon In-fa and Typhoon Cempaka brought extreme rain of more than 150mm per hour to China’s Henan province, breaking a record in the city of Zhengzhou. More than 300 people were killed in the floods that ravaged central China, officials said.

And in September 2021, the remnants of Hurricane Ida caused torrential rain and flash flooding in New York, leaving at least 50 people dead.

“Both disasters caused huge economic and human losses,” the study’s lead author, Dr Chi-Yung Tam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong said.

Tam and his colleagues are calling for more action to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and increase disaster preparedness in Asia.

Intensifying storms

Several studies suggest that warmer ocean temperatures are intensifying tropical cyclones.

One of those studies, from researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), looked at nearly 40 years of satellite data of global storms. The study, published last year, found that global warming has increased sea surface temperature in regions where tropical cyclones form. The combination of these warm temperatures, along with changes in atmospheric conditions, have allowed storms to more easily reach higher intensities.
La Niña to batter Australia with rain over the summer in a wet and windy holiday period

If a cyclone intensifies in strength at landfall, it will travel further inland, amplifying its destructive power.

While human-caused global warming is likely fueling the increase in the severity of the storms, natural weather cycles and events can also strengthen — or weaken — the intensity and frequency of cyclones.

Tam said numerical models predict the climate crisis “will likely continue the increasing trend in landfalling typhoons and their impacts on inland regions.”

“More Asian inland regions may be exposed to more severe storm-related disasters in the future as a result of the climate crisis,” he said.

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Travel to Japan during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

Editor’s Note — Coronavirus cases remain high across the globe. Health officials caution that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading the virus. Staying home is the best way to stem transmission. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on November 29.(CNN) — If you’re planning…

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Travel to Japan during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

Editor’s Note — Coronavirus cases remain high across the globe. Health officials caution that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading the virus. Staying home is the best way to stem transmission. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on November 29.

(CNN) — If you’re planning to travel to Japan, here’s what you’ll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The basics

Japan was initially lauded for containing the virus during the first wave but has since seen several surges in cases.

Following the identification of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Japan shut its borders to all foreigners except those visiting the country on humanitarian grounds, effective November 30.

Currently there are no exceptions for students or for people visiting family members. The government will revisit these rules if and when the new variant is contained.

What’s on offer

A heady mix of the cutting edge and deeply traditional, Japan remains a major draw for travelers from all over the globe. Whether participating in a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto, scouring Tokyo’s Akihabara district for tech bargains or soaking in a hot onsen in the forests of Tohoku, this is a country that leaves its mark on all who visit.

Who can go

Japan has some of the most stringent travel restrictions in the world.

Consult MOFA for the latest information.

What are the restrictions?

Those traveling under Japan’s revised business travel rules will need to provide proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure, signed and stamped by the laboratory where it was taken. While they will not need to self-isolate, they will need to provide details of their movements for the following two weeks and not use public transport.

Japan is entirely free of the “state of emergency” or “quasi-state of emergency” designations as of October 1. That is the first time since April that not a single prefecture will be in one of the categories.

Under these states and quasi-states, prefecture governments were allowed to make restrictions about things like crowd sizes and restaurant hours. With those designations lifted, it is possible for venues like bars, malls and cinemas to reopen.

What’s the Covid situation?

As of November 22, Japan had reported 1,725,850 confirmed cases of the virus and 18,343 deaths. These numbers don’t include any positive cases connected to the Olympics or Paralympics. More than 76% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato confirmed to local media that his team is exploring options for “vaccine passports.” Business travelers would be prioritized for these at first.

What can visitors expect?

While much of Japan remains open for business, cities are far quieter than usual and the government has the right to request the closure of businesses in areas of high transmission. Masks must be worn in public.

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Osaka is now home to the world’s first — and so far only — Super Nintendo World, where visitors can put on virtual reality glasses and play a real-life version of Mario Kart.

Joe Minihane, Julia Buckley and Lilit Marcus contributed to this story

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