...while some Harvard students make Sangam their study ground

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SummaryA research group from the Harvard Business School has spent five days in Allahabad looking at various aspects of the Kumbh Mela.

A research group from the Harvard Business School (HBS) has spent five days in Allahabad looking at various aspects of the Kumbh Mela. And, as some of the members of the group put it, the first-hand experience from “ground zero” has helped dispel several notions and also left many questions unanswered.

The group’s visit is part of the first-ever research initiated by the HBS, which will look at organising the Kumbh Mela in all its entirety. The basic question being asked: “How on Earth is an event of this size possible?”

Adopting a multi-disciplinary approach, at least four different branches related to urban designing, public health, sanitation and environment of the HBS have been working on Kumbh for the past few months and the final results are likely to be out some time later this year. The research is likely to produce a huge database on Kumbh, which has largely been dealt with on the basis of estimates so far.

Issac Dayno, one of the students of HBS and a member of the group led by Prof Diana Eck, had this to share, “I have been meeting people with the question as to whether salvation can be attained by bathing in a river the water of which is polluted. And there are so many answers.”

For instance, Dayno says, he met a Swami who did not bathe in Ganga because of the water quality. “But then, I met other people who said that they had no problem with the water. They believed that the water still has great quality,” he recalls. Dayno has been trying to unravel the pollution issue from the point of view of damming of the rivers in India.

Nicholas Roth, another member of the group and a student of the Graduate School of Arts and Business of the HBS, has been viewing the Kumbh from the point of view of the hard work and intricacy that has gone into the temporary landscaping of the pop-up mega city. “It is amazing how potted plants, the places for havans (sacrifices), and other things have been provided in many of the tents,” he says.

Prof Eck, leading the group and an expert in religious studies, says: “I have been looking at the religious aspects. My colleagues are looking at Kumbh from the point of view of urban planning and designing, public health, environment and medicine.” She has been meeting several of the ascetics and the gurus. The other research groups, from different schools of the HBS, related to this project have not yet visited Kumbh.

On Tuesday, the last day of the group’s stay here, Prof Eck and her group also joined Swami Chidananad Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, in the clean-up drive of Sangam and Qila Ghat here.

Rachele Taylor, another undergraduate member of the team, informs that the team stayed at Varanasi for a few days, getting acclimatised to the “Indian conditions” before coming to Allahabad. In fact, the group was in Varanasi on the day of Makar Sankranti - the first shahi snan, which marked the beginning of Kumbh-2013.

“We stayed away purposely because it is so crowded on the main bathing days. And we wanted to get a picture of the Kumbh beyond that,” says Prof Eck, who has written a book on Sacred Geography of Varanasi and is writing another one on the same subject for India.

Adds Dayno: “Usually, the pictures we get in the West are of the main bathing days, when there is crowd all around. The pontoon bridges are shown chock-a-block. But when we came here, we realised it is all so relaxed. Also, with all the sector system, it all looks so organised. We have been reading and theorising about most of the things here. But coming here has given us an idea of how actually things are.”

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