Harvard and Kumbh Mela

It was sometime in 1963 or so that I happened to attend the marriage of my very close friend Late RPDhingra, whom I still miss, in Allahabad. Late KKMangal had accompanied me. That was the time when I got a chance to take a dip at the sangam of the three rivers-Ganga, Yamuna and nonexistent Saraswati. There were hardly anyone. We had taken a boat from the fort side to reach Sangam. I still remember the clearly different colour of the water of the two rivers at the confluence.

Whenever the year of Kumbh have come, I wished like visiting the mela and mix with the unique gatherings of all sorts of sects of Hindus. But I have not been able to do that though I am now 73 plus. I keep on seeing the crowd on the screen of our TV and get a feel of awe and appreciation. We can’t make it any more at this age and perhaps we will not get salvation. I can hardly dare to get into that crowd of millions and the cold water.

Maha Kumbh Mela at Allahabad is billed as the biggest single religious gathering in the world. The mela (fair) will go on from Makar Sankranti on January 14, 2013 till February 25, 2013.

This year Kumbh has attracted the attention of Harvard University. The faculty and students of six of its departments are collaborating to understand the Kumbh Mela phenomenon under a project ‘Mapping India’s Kumbh Mela’: The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard Business School, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health have come with both undergraduate and graduate students to Allahabad to engage with this “pop-up mega-city.”and to prepare a project report as a part of their academic assignment for one semester.

The website of South Asia Institute has a description of the arrangement of the mela that has attracted the Americans: As an infrastructures for the mela, “a temporary city is laid out on a grid, constructed and deconstructed within a matter of weeks; within the grid, multiple aspects of contemporary urbanism come to fruition, including spatial zoning, an electricity grid, food and water distribution, physical infrastructure construction, mass vaccinations, public gathering spaces, and nighttime social events.”

I don’t know if Indian institutes have already done similar studies about Kumbh Mela. However, to me Kumbh is one such occasion where the people from all parts of India come to get all the sins done knowingly or unknowingly cleaned with a dip in the water at the Sangam (confluence) and to obtain salvation. It certainly provides a rare opportunity. The ancient Hindu scriptures have given importance of these visits. Perhaps that was one way to make the people see the different parts of the country and to meet with the people from allowed the country.It kept the integrity of the country in tact.

The Kumbh at Prayag the other name of Allahabad reminds me of one of the legendary characters of Indian history, Harshbardhan. As the story goes, he used to go to all the Kumbh with everything in his treasure and give away to ‘Brahmans, Buddhist monks, poor and orphans’. At the end, he would give away the royal clothe that used to have on his body and ask his sister Rajyashree for a small clothe to cover his body and with the same he used to return to his capital.

I wish still to visit the mela once before it ends with Yamuna.
PS: Why a Harvard Finance Instructor Went to the the Kumbh Mela

Published: January 25, 2013
Author: John D. Macomber

“Six months ago this land was under 30 feet of water. Three weeks from now this will become the largest city on earth, the largest single-purpose gathering of humanity in history. Every 12 years, when the moon and stars are aligned, this becomes the most auspicious spot in Hinduism, and there is a six-week-long festival, or mela, for the millions of pilgrims. The Maha Kumbh Mela is happening right now. It’s expected to draw close to 200 million people over almost eight weeks, and as many as 30 million in a single day. The Harvard team is here to learn about why and how.”

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