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Juna Akhara chief calls off Kumbh Mela hours after PM Modi's appeal

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New Delhi, Apr 17: The Juna Akhara, one of the largest sects of seers in the country, announced the end of its participation in the Kumbh Mela on Saturday, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's appeal that participation in the ongoing gathering in Haridwar be kept symbolic in view of the surge in coronavirus cases.

"Given the rising number of coronavirus cases emerging from Haridwar, the Kumbh Mela has been called off," Swami Avadheshanand Giri, the 'mahamandaleshwar' of the Juna Akhara announcedan early end to the month-long mega festival.

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Responding to an appeal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to keep the participation in Kumbh symbolic, Giri said, "Faith is a big thing, but human lives are far more important." "We must all realise that the strain of coronavirus was not as aggressive or fatal earlier as it is at present. So my appeal to the emotional devotees is that they should attend the Kumbh fair in limited numbers," he told reporters in Haridwar.

Kumbh, which has seen people from different parts of the country attending the auspicious event in large numbers, has drawn flak from various quarters as the number of COVID-19 cases has zoomed at a rapid pace in the past few weeks. The event has also reported the coronavirus cases in large numbers.

The ongoing Kumbh has already been shortened this year to just one month from April 1 to 30 due to the pandemic. In normal circumstances, the event, which comes once in 12 years, is held from mid January to April.

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Modi tweeted that he spoke to Swami Avdheshanand Giri of Juna Akhara over telephone and enquired about the health of saints, many of whom have contracted the infection, and also conveyed his appreciation for their cooperation with the local administration.

"I prayed that two ''shahi snan'' have taken place and Kumbh (participation) should now be kept symbolic. This will boost the fight against this crisis," the prime minister tweeted in Hindi.

Responding to Modi''s call, Avdheshanand urged people to not come to the Kumbh mela for bathing in large numbers due to the COVID-19 situation and to follow the rules.

Saving one''s and other''s lives is sacred, he added.

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