Any developed country that had anything a fraction of
what the Kumbha Mela was, would have hyped it up, marketed it and
In India, world history's largest ever people-event
spread over six weeks, passed off without fuss or incident. Perhaps it's a
sign of India's self-confidence that it doesn't chortle about what it has
just brought off. its of a piece with India's nonchalance when criticism
is heaped on it. India just does it and keeps going!
The colour and the theatre of the event have been
well-covered by the world media. Puzzled audiences the world over have
been shown the strange and varied lot called Indians -30 million of them-
trudging up to a river, without a prompt or any publicity, to take a dip
and assert a uniqueness all their own.
But not enough has been said about what it took to
organise so mammoth a festival, which cannot be canceled by anyone's
diktat nor can restrictions be placed on anyone who wanted to be there.
The Kumbha Mela arrives with a force all its own and is a ticket less,
open festival that is everyone's right to participate in.
The administration faced a logistical nightmare.
Planning began several months before in Allahabad in UP,
a state much reviled for its disorder and lawlessness. Supply of water,
food, electricity, telecom, grocery, fuel, shelter was planned. Special
camp-site space had to be reserved for hundreds of religious and
For over three months, construction went on at the Kumbha
site. Take in these figures:
a 3000 acre temporary township, featuring
140 km of specially laid roads
16000 street lights
150 watch towers
28 police stations
a hospital and 20 clinics
That is the hardware. The software required to run so
vast a project called for an equally staggering set of numbers:
40 companies of para-military forces
100s of shops
6000 conservancy workers clearing upto 200 tonnes of
garbage per day
The political situation in the country being what it is,
security issues had to be addressed:
12 anti-sabotage squads
8 mine detection teams
2 commando groups
Tens of 'trouble-spotters' mingling with the crowd
6 infra red scanners for night vigil
Closed circuit surveillance TV network
Now, the reviews.
....but how did it all play?
Sandipan Deb a columnist for 'Outlook' was there and
notes of the pilgrims :"...two unbelievable crore [20,000,000!] of
one single day, the holy Mauni Amavasya, and if all of them stood in
single file the line would have stretched from Allahabad to Miami."
Not a single untoward incident took place. No epidemic,
no riots. Many were 'lost' but helped to be 'found' again. A few tempers
ran high but becalmed in time. Religious groups declared 'hostilities',
but it was all more theatre than violent. Hundreds of voyeuristic foreign
photographers pried on the lives of Indians: they were shooed off and not
Here is Sandipan Deb reporting again: "The Maha
Kumbha is history's biggest logistical exercise of its type and it is
organised amazingly well. Kumbhnagar is spotlessly clean from roads to
public latrines the garbage is invisible, the officials are polite and
efficient, and it's a miracle that the policemen on duty are not cracking
'India Today' called it the "Kleenex Kumbha"
and said: "the Kumbha has been a revelation of India's hitherto
hidden skills in civic management."
The Maha Kumbha such as the one just passed occurs but
once in 144 years. Long before the next one arrives, India will have
learnt to replicate the Kumbhnagar success all across the country.