The Uttar Pradesh government has said the centuries-old Ram Navami Mela in Ayodhya will be held despite the state’s own advisories along with those by the Centre against large gatherings in an effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic, ThePrint reported on Tuesday. The fair will be held from March 25 to April 2 and is the first such gathering since the Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling in November, said the disputed land in Ayodhya would be assigned to a trust that will oversee the construction of a Ram temple there.
District Magistrate Anuj Kumar Jha made the announcement on Sunday. “Ram Navami will be celebrated as per tradition and with all precautions in place,” he said, according to The Times of India. “The administration will issue timely advisory for people and will take all necessary care of the health of the devotees.”
Earlier on Monday, Ayodhya’s Chief Medical Officer Ghanshyam Singh had raised concerns about the mass religious event amid panic over coronavirus. Singh cited Chief Minister Adityanath’s advice against mass gatherings and practicing voluntary social distancing. “I have advised the district administration to cancel the Ram Navami mela this time,” he added.
Singh claimed the Uttar Pradesh government did not have the infrastructure to screen or hand out masks to lakhs of pilgrims. The district magistrate, however, called Singh’s claims fake and reiterated the Ram Navami mela will be held as scheduled.
This year’s celebrations will include shifting the idol of the deity Ram at Ayodhya from a makeshift tent to a fiberglass structure in a ceremonious inauguration of the temple’s construction.
“The shifting of Bhagwan Ram from the makeshift tent to the ‘chabutara’ or the platform is long due,” the Vishwa Hindu Parishad President Alok Kumar told ThePrint. He added that postponing the event is not an option as the dates for the mela were considered auspicious. “Lord Ram has been in a tent for the last 28 years. Before the construction of the temple starts, this ceremony will take place.”
India recorded its third death from the global pandemic on Tuesday after a patient died in Maharashtra. India has declared a countrywide lockdown of schools, colleges, gyms and swimming pools. After a meeting of a Group of Ministers, the government advised that people avoid non-essential travel and employees of private companies work from home. These measures are an attempt to enforce distance between people, a proven way to slow pandemics.
The novel coronavirus has infected at least 175,536 people, and killed 7,007 worldwide, according to an estimate from John Hopkins University, which is tracking cases reported by the World Health Organization and additional sources. China has the highest number of fatalities at 3,213, followed by Italy with 2,158 deaths and almost 28,000 cases.