Critical Commentary: Could Hindu festival ‘pop-up megacity’ be an organizational model for India?

Posted on March 5, 2013 by


As it turns out, “the separation of church and state” is not a guideline that should only be abided when dealing with politics or the United States in general, but the international media as well. This American article from the Washington Post ironically challenges India’s economic state and lack of development with the terrific execution of a particularly large Hindu festival. And the ironic thing is, I think it’s intending to be a compliment?

The article discusses the impressive logistical operations behind India’s hosting of the triennial Kumbh Mela, a Hindu celebration that principally involves devotees participating in the ceremonial self-washing in the Ganges River. (At least, that’s all that’s mentioned about the purpose of this Hindu tradition.) While this is a year-round devotional practice for Hindus local to the Ganges, the Kumbh Mela is held every three years as a chance for Hindus around the world to celebrate it as well. It was particularly emphasized this year because 2013 was the next of every 12 years that the Kumbh Mela was to be made especially grand. It was estimated that somewhere between 80 million and 100 million “faithful” and “pilgrims” came to participate, making the article seem just as memorable as it was unhygienic to a Westerner.

Mallet, probably realizing the strangeness of this event to overly-cleanly Americans, honed in on the hygiene factor and went into an in-depth discussion behind the state’s logistics to control an event described as being “like a mega-refugee camp.”

Accompanying the article is a slideshow of 45 photographs taken at the festival. Photo number six was the one chosen to be auto-displayed alongside the text, depicting a group of approximately fifty men hoisted above the murky grey river on wooden docks, one of them dumping a large vase of milk into the river’s contents. The caption reads, “Hindu holy men, pour milk into the waters as they perform rituals in Allahabad, India.” (Photo and slideshow can be found here)

It appears that this ritual is left to be understood it as mere pollution, since no further description behind the Hindu practice is provided for this photo or even the festival as a whole. Yet, somehow, the religious tie seemed important enough to fit into the title of the post even though the fact that the festival is a Hindu one rather than a different religion has seemingly nothing to do with the logistics behind its overall execution. In fact, the only description of the Hindu tradition or religious purposes behind hosting the celebration included a bite size fragment that any Westerner could understand: washing in the river was to wash away their sins.

However, the “refugee camp” goes highly praised by Mallet, as he notes the “phenomenal” efforts that were put in to making the event run so smoothly: “Fresh water comes out of the taps. Toilets are disinfected. Trained police carefully shepherd the crowds to the bathing ghats. The lights come on at night.” This emphasizes the fact that these simple and choppy points- or luxuries– are not usually the case for Hindus on a regular basis.

The point? “India can do it. All of the villages, all of the cities can have electricity, they can have running water, they can have roads. That attention, that focus, that clarity, that commitment, just has to be there.”

They proved it with the Hindu celebration of the Kumbh Mela: they can do it! India and its Hindu people could be just like the West if they really put their minds and efforts to it.

Source: Mallet, Victor. “Could Hindu festival ‘pop-up megacity’ be an organizational model for India?” Washington Post. 1 March 2013. Web. 5 March 2013.

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