The foundation stone laying ceremony of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya was held on August 5. A selected guest list of 175 people was made to ensure that Covid-19 norms were followed during the grand event.
Along with other pictures of the event, an image of a large group of monks (Naga Sadhus) sitting close to each other without following any social distancing protocols is viral on social media. The picture with a claim in the Malayalam language says that the monks attended the grand event in Ayodhya by violating the Covid-19 precautionary measures.
One such claim on Facebook in the Malayalam language translates to, “Yogi’s monks gathered for Ayodhya Ram mandir bhoomi pujan violating the Covid-19 precautionary measures.”
India Today Anti Fake News War Room (AFWA) has found the claim is false. The viral image is an award-winning photo taken during the Kumbh Mela festival 2013 in Allahabad by travel photographer Thorge Berger.
Archived versions of the posts can be seen here and here.
Upon reverse-searching the image, we found it on the website of a Germany-based travel photographer, Thorge Berger.
According to the site, the image was clicked by Berger during the Kumbh Mela in 2013, one of the largest pilgrimage festivals in Hinduism in the world.
Taking cues from this, we further searched and found a 2017 interview by art and photography portal 121 CLICKS, with Thorge Berger where he mentioned the image in question.
According to the interview, Thorge Berger clicked the photo of the “Sadhu aspirants” during the 2013 Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad and the photo won him a “cross-border photographer of the year” award in Germany.
We also found that in the previous years too, the same image of the naked holy men was used by several websites to represent Kumbh Mela.
Kumbh Mela, in Hinduism, is a religious pilgrimage that is celebrated four times over a course of 12 years rotating between four different locations in India – Haridwar, Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad), Nashik and Ujjain.
The festival is one of the only opportunities to see the reclusive Naga sadhus (naked holy man). Men become Naga sadhus, considered among the most unique holy men seen at the Kumbh, by getting their head and face shaved in an initiation ritual that is performed at the festival.
Hence the claim that the image shows monks violating Covid-19 precautionary measures at the Ram temple bhoomi pujan in Ayodhya is false. The image was clicked during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad in the year 2013 by German travel photographer Thorge Berger and it shows the newly initiated Naga Sadhus.