Final millions bathe at India’s Kumbh megafestival

Hindu devotees arrive to take a holy dip at the Sangam — the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers — on the last day of the Kumbh Mela festival. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2019
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Final millions bathe at India’s Kumbh megafestival

  • ‘We expect at least 10 million today because it is both the last day and Mahashivratri’
  • More than 30,000 police were on duty to manage the huge crowds and prevent deadly stampedes

ALLAHABAD, India: India’s Kumbh Mela religious megafestival wraps up Monday with some 10 million pilgrims expected to take a final holy plunge, taking the final tally toward 250 million, officials said.
“We expect at least 10 million today because it is both the last day and Mahashivratri,” one of the biggest Hindu holy days, government official Prabhat Shukla said.
“Around 220 million people have visited the Kumbh as per our last calculations. The final tally will only be updated after the end of the festival but it could be around 250 million,” Shukla added.
The 48-day festival in the northern city of Allahabad, recently renamed Prayagraj after the region’s ancient Hindu name by the state’s Hindu nationalist government, began in February.
Hindus believe bathing at the meeting point of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati at the festival — home to a vast tent city bigger than Manhattan — brings salvation.
According to Hindu mythology, gods and demons fought a war over a sacred pitcher, or Kumbh, containing the nectar of immortality. Drops fell at four locations — one being Allahabad.
The pilgrims including thousands of Naga Sadhus — a devout, fierce and famously nude sect of followers of the Hindu god Shiva — rise at dawn for prayers at the Kumbh Mela before immersing themselves in the holy waters.
This year’s festival was the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela, which denotes the completion of the six-year half cycle of the even bigger and grander Maha (great) Kumbh festival, held every 12 years.
Authorities have spent about $40 million on an operation to block some drains and make sure others undergo cleaning so that waste water pouring into the rivers does not threaten the pilgrims.
More than 30,000 police were on duty to manage the huge crowds and prevent deadly stampedes seen at previous gatherings.
Special skimmer boats collected waste from the surface of the rivers and more than 40,000 temporary toilets have been installed.
Devotees meditate on the banks of the rivers after the dip and collect Ganges water in cans to take home. Many observe complete silence for the rest of the day after their ritual bath.
With elections looming, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made the most of the festival to burnish his Hindu credentials, with cutouts and posters of him placed all over the campgrounds.


The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

Updated 21 April 2019
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The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

  • Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output
  • Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations

PARIS: Forget how many carats — how ethical is your gold? As high-end consumers demand to know the origin of their treasures, some jewellers are ensuring they use responsibly sourced, eco-friendly or recycled gold.
Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output, and the Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations.
The Geneva-based firm, which makes the Palme d’Or trophy for the Cannes Film Festival, says it now uses only verified suppliers of gold that meet strict standards to minimize negative environmental impacts of mining the precious metal.
Among the many certificates and standards claiming to codify “responsible” goldmining, two labels stand out.
They are “fairmined” gold — a label certified by a Colombian NGO — and the more widely known “fairtrade” label launched by Swiss foundation Max Havelaar.
Both support artisanal mines that seek to preserve the environment in terms of extraction methods, along with decent working conditions and wages for the miners.
Such production remains limited — just a few hundred kilograms annually. Global gold output by comparison totals around 3,300 tons.
Concerned jewellers are keen to ensure they can trace the source of their entire supply to an ethical production cycle and to firms certified by the not-for-profit Responsible Jewellery Council, which has developed norms for the entire supply chain.
RJC members must adhere to tough standards governing ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices across the precious metals industry.
The French luxury group Kering, which says it has bought more than 3.5 tons of “responsibly produced” gold since 2015 for its Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo and Gucci brands, has committed to 100 percent use of “ethical” gold by 2020.
“We are trying to maximize the proportion of Fairmined and Fairtrade gold — but their modest production is in great demand so the bulk of our sourcing remains recycled gold, (which is) certified ‘RJC Chain of Custody’,” says Claire Piroddi, sustainability manager for Kering’s jewelry and watches.
Fairmined or Fairtrade gold is “about 10 to 12 percent more expensive. But recycled gold barely generates any additional cost premium,” Piroddi told AFP, since it was already refined for a previous life in the form of jewelry or part of a high-tech product.
Going a step further, using only precious metal from electronic or industrial waste is an original idea developed by Courbet, a brand launched just last spring.
“We do not want to promote mining extraction or use recently extracted gold, so we sought suppliers who recycle gold used in graphics cards or computer processors. That’s because we know today that more than half of gold’s available reserves have already been extracted,” says Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, Courbet’s co-founder and artistic director.
She says the brand’s watchwords are ethical and environmental consciousness.
“In a mine, a ton of terrain might contain five grams of gold, whereas a ton of electronic waste might generate 200 grams,” Wachtmeister says.
“Clients are also demanding an ecological approach more and more — they are aware of their day-to-day impact and consider the origin of what they wear,” she adds.
“The issue of supply really resonates with the public at large,” adds Thierry Lemaire, director general of Ponce, a jewelry firm that was established in Paris’s fashionable Marais district in 1886.
The company is RJC-certified and uses only recycled gold.
“There is a logic to that — if we want to do our work well, then let’s go the whole hog and respect nature. That can be done today because the entire chain has become standardised.
“Studios such as ours that work for major names on Place Vendome are all certified,” Lemaire says, referring to an upscale square in Paris.
He represents the fifth generation of family firm Ponce, which produces 45,000 gold rings a year from recycled gold.
Working in a pungent atmosphere of heated metal, refiners sit hunched over polishing machines, a large leather hide slung over their knees to catch the tiniest shaving.
“Every Friday, we have a great clearout and go over the workshop with a fine-tooth comb to pick up little bits of (gold) dust and shavings,” Lemaire says.
“Nothing is lost, it’s a truly virtuous chain.”