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Successful Kumbh earns Akhilesh Yadav a Harvard invite

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Lucknow: The successful hosting of Maha Kumbh 2013 has earned Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav an invite from Harvard University to speak on how the 55-day religious congregation, which attracted tens of millions of people from India and around the world, went off like clockwork and was praised by organizations worldwide.

Urban Development Minister Mohammad Azam Khan, who has also been invited for the April 25 event, said it was a matter of great honor that the efforts of the state government were being recognized by such a world-famous university.

The varsity would pay all the expenses for the trip.

50-member multi-disciplinary teams, including faculty and student researchers from Harvard University, had traveled to Allahabad in January to document and analyze the processes involved in the successful Kumbh Mela.

The world’s largest religious festival occurs every 12 years and draws millions of visitors to a temporary, purpose-built tent city on the banks of the Ganga and the Yamuna. The Kumbh was also documented by various organizations; over 1,000 journalists had covered the festival, which concluded on March 12.

Harvard’s year-long inter-faculty project, coordinated by its South Asia Institute and its Global Health Institute, was keeping in mind the “focus on urbanization,” a faculty member told IANS.

“The very fact that to accommodate the millions of pilgrims who journey to Allahabad to bathe in the sacred confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna, the Uttar Pradesh government created a temporary city in the flood plain of the river - that is worth a study,” an official said.

“The city, laid out on a grid, was constructed and then “de-constructed” in a matter of weeks. Within the grid, multiple aspects of contemporary urbanism come to fruition, including special zoning, an electricity grid, food and water distribution, physical infrastructure construction, mass vaccinations, public gathering spaces, and night-time social events,” the official said.

The multi-disciplinary team from Harvard had studied various aspects of Kumbh 2013 including urbanism, business and public health and religion at the mela.

Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and India studies at Harvard, led a group of graduate and undergraduate researchers who studied the ritual use of flowers and their environmental impact, the diversity of sacred trees, pollution and the effects of dams on the Ganga, the relationship between faith and science and the ‘green’ Kumbh movement.

The study of urbanism at the Kumbh was done by a team led by Rahul Mehrotra, who chairs the Department of Urban Planning and Design at Harvard.  Students documented, at a macro-level, the spaces at the Kumbh mela campus using two and three dimensional media, including plans and sections, diagrams and perspectives, as well as aerial photography.

“Among other things, the group explored how the temporal, fleeting events, including the routes and the physical structure of settlements functioned together and how the systems that emerged could be applied to sustainable urban design in other nations and contexts,” Ashok Sharma, the media in-charge of Kumbh, told IANS.

The health surveillance study by Harvard students has also documented various  measures taken by the state government to control outbreak of diseases and maintain high standards of sanitation at the Kumbh.

Describing the Kumbh mela campus as “India’s mega pop-up city” the reports of various studies, researchers say, have been illuminating. Akhilesh Yadav’s visit, an official said, is not only set to shed more light on various aspects of arrangements during Kumbh but would also “pep up the credibility of the state government on the international stage.”