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Soul medicine

Posted in Health by Rrishi on 5 October 2008

At pilgrimage sites there are other health challenges besides stampedes

Pilgrimages were once arduous undertakings, requiring weeks or months of travel, and real determination. Even the holiest shrines had no more than a stream of devotees — not the floods of worshippers that arrive now by road, rail and aeroplane. A pilgrimage, today, can be a weekend holiday.

The pilgrim boom is decades old. Yet, at most religious sites, infrastructure is still not up to the task of serving and shepherding visitors safely. The problem is especially acute on festival days, when many more people come to worship.

This Navratri, about 140 pilgrims died at the Chamunda Devi temple in Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh. About 12,000 people were working their way up the steep pathway when an altercation at the top led to the fatal stampede. This is the third such tragedy in three months: in July, six people died in a stampede at the Puri rath yatra; and in August, 140-plus died at the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh, when rumours of an avalanche triggered a stampede.

More modern sites, especially those in south India like Shirdi, Puttaparthi and Tirupati, are better at dealing with the rush. But all of them have much to learn from the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which attract millions of pilgrims in the Hajj season, which starts in December this year.

At this gigantic, if temporary, meeting of humanity, safety is not just about crowd control. It is also about disease. Official medical advice is eminently practical: “Drink plenty of water and liquids to protect yourself from dehydration and heat stroke. Also take care that you do not suffer from cold, cough and sore throat or upset stomach,” says the Haj Committee of India. You should not pass infections to fellow pilgrims.

“Your worship did not begin with The Hajj and is not going to end with it,” says Hajtips.com. So it suggests bringing your own medication, taking multivitamins, being fit enough to walk on the Hajj, wearing a mask to avoid getting or giving germs, treating a snoring problem so as not to disturb other pilgrims — and even eating food that won’t give you flatulence! This humane approach helps manage the human problems of a great religious encounter.

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