As Millions of Hindus observe Kumbh Mela this year, a festival that recurs every 12 years, it is interesting to witness the technological advancements and innovations at each observance
Over the next few weeks, an estimated 100 million people are expected to gather together in celebration of their faith at the Kumbh Mela in India.
Occurring once every twelve years, the Kumbh Mela draws millions of Hindu pilgrims of all ages and generations onto the banks of India’s sacred rivers. Usually lasting a month and a half, this mass pilgrimage draws together devotes from across the world for the purpose of ritual bathing in the blessed rivers in order to purify their souls and obtain salvation. This year’s celebrations however, have even greater spiritual significance as it is the Maha (Great) Kumbh Mela, which occurs once every 144 years.
The festival finds its origins in Hindu mythology, which tells of a time when gods and demons fought over a pitcher of nectar, from which a few drops fell onto earth in four rivers, marking the four places where the Kumbh festivals are now held. The Kumbh Mela is celebrated at each of these four sacred rivers, the Ganga in Haridwar, Godavari in Nasik and Kshipra in Ujjain, in turn. The final location is in Allahabad, where the immensely sacred rivers of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati river join, which has always been the location for the Maha Kumbh.
What makes this gathering so large is the fact that it represents a convergence of all the different sects of Hinduism. During the last Kumbh Mela in 2001, 75 million attended with approximately 40 million attending on the busiest and most sacred day.
This pilgrimage and practise has taken place in India for centuries; the first written evidence of which can be dated back to approximately 630 AD. Yet, due to the length of time between each one, every Kumbh Mela is very different from the one before. As a result, the festival attracts researchers who are interested in measuring human progression between the two events, especially in the ‘pop-up’ towns constructed every time to house and cater for the millions of devotees. This year it is the technological advances on personal devices that are highlighted, as well the first ever ‘Greener’ Kumbh Mela attempt.
For example, #kumbhmela is trending on twitter making the distribution of news and alerts much easier. Photo albums are instantly being updated on flickr and instagram, a phenomenon that did not take place at the last Kumbh Mela 12 years ago.
Significantly, this event is also attended by thousands of religious figures and holy men and women from all parts of Hindu culture. This provides an opportunity for religious assemblies to take place where doctrines and practises are discussed. As a consequence, knowledge, understanding and tolerance about the different strands of Hinduism is shared and promoted. These religious figures are now using these advances in technology to distribute their teaching further, making use of webcasts and 3D messaging in order to reach out to a wider audience.
Traditionally pilgrims have travelled to the Kumbh Mela in large groups by trains, buses and by walking miles on foot. However, this year it is expected that a larger number of pilgrims will travel in by SUVs and 4x4s, resulting in over 156 kilometres of roads being laid and double the number of parking lots being installed compared to the last Kumbh Mela in 2001. Many of these cars will be using google maps on smart phones to navigate, and the Kumbh Mela authorities will also be taking advantage of advanced technology such as GPS mapping to assist with their head count.
Additionally, in the wake of events over the past few years, tight security is being implemented with more than 30,000 police stationed on the grounds. 30 police stations and 30 fire stations have also been set up in this temporary town. Alongside this 35 ayurvedic, homeopathic as well as allopathic hospitals have been created, to cater for all different medicinal needs.
With these changes in mind Harvard University is using the opportunity to conduct unique case studies in the ‘pop-up Mega City’. A team of students, professors, doctors, architects and anthropologists visited Allahabad to conduct interdisciplinary research on a variety of subjects, including urban and design studies, religious and cultural studies, environmental science and even communication and technology, demonstrating the significance of the Kumbh Mela to development, as well as to pilgrims.
In this manner, what makes the Kumbh Mela so significant to millions of Hindus around the world, from all different generations, is the fact that it encompasses a rapidly changing world, whilst still staying true to its origins – something which many of the pilgrims are doing themselves.
Image credits: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/14/169313222/biggest-gathering-on-earth-begins-in-india-kumbh-mela-may-draw-100-million
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