How lost pilgrims are found among the teeming millions at the Kumbh Mela

With an expected turnout of more than 120 million people in seven weeks at the Kumbh Mela, it is easy for pilgrims to get lost. Here's how they are reunited with their families

Published: 29th January 2019 04:54 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th January 2019 08:46 PM   |  A+A-

Devotees in The Ardh Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj. (Photo | PTI)

Devotees in The Ardh Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj. (Photo | PTI)

By Online Desk

For devout Hindus, all roads lead to Prayagraj (Allahabad) where the Kumbh Mela is underway. The last time the city hosted the gathering in 2013, more than 120 million are believed to have thronged the Triveni Sangam to take a dip in the holy Ganga. But not all of them return home with their kin.

The old Bollywood saying 'Kumbh mele me bichre huye bhai' is inspired by real cases of people going missing at the pilgrimage site. Some are reunited with their families but others are never heard of again. With the advent of mobile phones and the internet, the process of finding lost ones is easier. If they still remain untraceable, help is at hand. 

Devotees taking a dip in the Ardh Kumbh Mela in 2019 in Prayagraj. (Photo | PTI)

According to a BBC report, the 'Bhule Bhakte Shivir' camp, Allahabad's oldest, was set up by Raja Ram Tiwari in 1946 to help pilgrims find their loved ones. A total of 150 volunteers work towards reuniting those who get separated.

The camp which has helped over 1.5 million families has a systematic arrangement of reuniting families. At the entrance, a policeman writes down the details of the new arrivals in a register - name, address, emergency contact number.

Kumbh Mela 2019. (Photo | EPS/Pushkar V)

While some prefer to sit in the shade of the camp, many wait outside in the blistering sun. Tense relatives and parents wait anxiously for their names to be announced one more time on the mike in the hope of speeding up their search efforts. 

ALSO READ | Kumbh Mela dip could be harmful, warn CPCB data

A couple of minutes away from the 'Bhule Bhakte Shivir' camp is the brightly-lit Khoya Paya Kendra (Lost and Found Centre) run by the police. The camp is run by young volunteers from various parts of the country.

Although help is available easily, gathering the correct information remains the main challenge. Most people waiting to be reunited are elderly, with little or no education, and remember no telephone numbers. 

There is also a special camp just for women and children -- the Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Smriti Samiti camp -- which was established in 1956. Food, blankets and clothes are provided to those awaiting their families.

Around 120 million visited the Kumbh Mela in 2013. (Photo | Kumbh Mela website)

While there are multiple manual centres, Pune's Kaash IT Solutions Limited has coordinated with the UP police and set up 15 computerised lost and found centres of which 12 are in Kumbh and three outside. With 3,500 loudspeakers and 24x7 computerised help centres, the UP Police hopes that this will speed up the process.

The UP Police is also using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags for children below the age of 14. 
The director general of police told PTI that over 40,000 RFID tags will be used to trace lost children. The tags have been made in partnership with Vodafone. 

If those lost have not been reunited with their families in 24 hours, they are handed over to the UP Police who send them to the Naari Niketan or men's shelter. 

This year the Kumbh Mela is expecting around 120 million pilgrims in seven weeks, dwarfing last year's Hajj pilgrimage which saw a turnout of 2.4 million.

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