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Kumbh Mela is the greatest show on Earth, says a study

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The greatest show on Earth — Kumbh Mela — in Allahabad attracts worldwide attention as a remarkable spectacle: Millions of pilgrims bathing in the Ganges. A team of British and Indian researchers have taken up a study for four years seeking to understand the various aspects of such a huge crowd.

The Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, now being held at Sangam in Allahabad early next year has been described as the "greatest show on Earth" in a four-year study by British and Indian researchers.

Up to 100 million people will gather on the shores of the Ganges to celebrate the Hindu festival commencing on January 14, 2013. For four years the team of British and Indian researchers has been studying the event, seeking to understand how people treat each other, how they experience the crowd and what impact the crowd has on their everyday lives.

They will present their findings at a special event at Allahabad University on January 24, 2013. The study described the Kumbh Mela as an incredible event and the "greatest show on Earth.”

The Kumbh Mela attracts worldwide attention as a remarkable spectacle: millions of pilgrims bathing in the Ganges, parades of gurus on thrones, flanked by naked Naga Sadhus smeared in ash.

This research, led by Nick Hopkins at the University of Dundee, Prof. Stephen Reicher at the University of St. Andrews, and Prof Narayanan Srinivasan at the University of Allahabad shows it to be remarkable in other ways as well.

How is it that a vast city of strangers emerges from nothing every year, and yet it functions harmoniously? How is it that people thrive in an environment that is densely crowded, intensely noisy and often insanitary?

The event in Allahabad will provide the answers to these and other questions about the Mela. It will also provide insights that are relevant, not only to the Mela, but go to the heart of processes that make human social life possible, which create (or undermine) social cohesion and which shape our sense of well being.

“Sometimes we look at the Mela as an exotic event and focus on how different the pilgrims are from us. Our work shows how the pilgrim experience has lessons for all of us about how to create a good community and to ensure that people thrive in the community,” Hopkins said.

“By all the tenets of conventional wisdom, the Mela shouldn't work. It is crowded, noisy and unsanitary. One might expect people to be stressed, quarrelsome and confliction. Yet the event is harmonious and people are serene. Studying the Mela has forced us to reconsider many basic beliefs about how people function in society,” Reicher said.

Narayanan said, 'This has been the largest ever social science collaboration between the UK and India and possibly the most successful. The event in Allahabad will be very exciting. It will reveal findings that are sure to surprise people. It will change their understanding of crowds and communities.'