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Friday, April 26, 2013

the Maha Kumbh Mela and Harvard University

The very name spells knowledge and is associated with educational research and scholarly people ~ that of Harvard University, the high place of learning in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature.

India is a place known for its religious congregations and nothing to beat Kumbh Mela, by its sheer numbers.  Braving the winter cold, tens of millions of people scoop on the confluence of rivers to have that sacred bath, praying, releasing marigold wreaths and rafts of small oil lamps into the river.   The  Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, is a mega event - millions of Hindus gather to bathe at the confluence of the sacred Ganga (Ganges) River, the Yamuna River, and the mythical underground Saraswathi.  Legend says that on his return to the Himalaya, Vishnu flew over this spot and dropped sacred nectar from a pitcher – a kumbh. By some accounts more than 80 million people attended the recent Kumbh Mela on 14 February 2013.

People moved by faith transcend miles completing their pilgrimmage and feeling happy in the holy bath.  Miles away, a study about the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in India is to be presented at an annual symposium on South Asia hosted by the Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The two-day long symposium in the University's South Asia Institute (SAI) will focus on the timely appeal of South Asia to the humanities at the intersection of religion and civil society, ancient arts and cutting edge technologies, organisers said. South Asia without Borders 2013', the symposium will explore development, the juncture of caste and race, gender and human rights, social entrepreneurship and the arts, constitutionalism and development in South Asia, they said. "Mapping the Kumbh Mela", a study by 50 Harvard faculty, staff and student researchers who travelled to Allahabad in January this year, documents and analyses the processes involved in the Kumbh Mela, billed as the world's largest human gathering.

Team leaders will share insights and outcomes that have come from this massive interdisciplinary project and speak with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Urban Development Minister Mohammad Azam Khan at the symposium. Other topics at the symposium include "Why Europe Got Rich and Asia Did Not", "Historicity and Modernity of Caste" and "Gender and Contemporary South Asia".

The Maha Kumbh Mela, housed roughly 3 million people for its 55-day duration and drew as many as 20 million visitors on peak river-bathing days. Those researchers are to analyze the data they collected, from thousands of patient records at clinics and hospitals to water samples from the Ganges to measurements of the pop-up city’s grid and elevation.  For many these huge human gatherings are opportunities for the practice of commerce, politics, services of many kinds, or public health” — exactly the sort of interactions that bear fruit for academics.  The one big difference between the previous Melas and the present one could be the biggest data set ever of cellphone usage.

It has provided an opportunity for a politician too… the CM of UP Akhilesh Yadav is going to deliver lecture on organising Kumbh Mela.  Reports from Lucknow stated that accompanied by a battery of officials and two ministers, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on Wednesday left for the US to deliver a lecture at the Harvard Business School on organising the Maha Kumbh Mela and the challenges faced by the administration. The 10-minute speech in English would see the chief minister sharing his upbringing, his schooling and the vision he has for the most populous state of the country. His address would follow a five-minute video presentation “Magic of Kumbh”, and a 25-minute power point presentation detailing the challenges the administration faced while organising the mega event in Allahabad town that began 14 January and concluded on 12 March.

The power point presentation is reported to have been prepared by management consultancy firm Ernst and Young, whose consultants were stationed in the state for more than 10 days during which they met several officials in the state capital Lucknow and Allahabad, and took extensive notes. The presentation was later reviewed by the chief secretary thrice, an official said. Government sources said the chief minister took out time twice from his busy schedule to review the presentation, which contains 60 graphical slides along with speaker notes. The chief minister and his team would also participate in an interactive session with students and faculty of the Harvard Business School and answer their queries. They would be staying at the Taj Mahal hotel on the Arlingston street in Boston.

Away, there is news of India formally protesting to the US over the brief detention of Uttar Pradesh Urban Development Minister Mohammad Azam Khan at Boston airport as he arrived to take part in an event at Harvard University. Khan, who is accompanying State Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav for the presentation of a Harvard study on the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, was detained for about 10 minutes for "further questioning" at Boston Logan International Airport Wednesday, according to Indian officials. Once the visitors were cleared for entry by immigration, a woman officer of the US Customs and Border Protection wing of the Homeland Security took Khan to an adjacent room "for further questioning," sources said. Incensed, Khan is reported to have kicked up a ruckus in the Imigration area saying he was detained because he was a Muslim and sought an apology from the officer who merely said she was doing her duty. At the State Department, when asked to comment on the incident, spokesman Patrick Ventrell said he was "not aware of the specifics of this case" as the Department of Homeland Security has jurisdiction over airport movements inside the US.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
26th April 2013.


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