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Kumbh Mela – Mapping the Ephemeral Mega-City: Harvard Publishes a Book on Hindu Festival

The Maha Kumbh Mela is a 55-day long confluence which is held periodically after every 12 years

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Harvard University has added prestige and importance to the Indian heritage by publishing ‘Kumbh Mela – Mapping the Ephemeral Mega-City,’ a book that details about the brilliance with which Maha Kumbh Mela of 2013 was organised.

The studies were carried out by a team of 50 professors and students at the South Asia Institute of Harvard to learn about what makes this temporarily built city of pilgrimage a “megacity.” The book was launched this year, in 2016, on August 1, mentioned the TOI report.

Swami Nithyananda during the Maha Kumbh Mela. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Swami Nithyananda during the Maha Kumbh Mela. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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India is one of the most culturally and spiritually rich nations of the world, where Eid, Diwali, Christmas and all festivals are celebrated with great zeal. With some celebrations lasting for days and months, the Kumbh Mela is a mass pilgrimage of Hindu devotees that take a dip in the sacred rivers to wash off their sins. The Maha Kumbh Mela is a 55-day long confluence which is held periodically after every 12 years.

Special fleet services during the mela. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Special fleet services during the mela. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to the TOI report, this 449-page book contains town planners, architectural and infrastructural plans of bigger cities than the mela, which locates the Kumbh Mela as a better-organised spectacle than Manhattan and FIFA World Cup held in Brazil in 2014. The book calls the confluence ‘more than mere a spectacle.’

“How more than 100 million come to a small place, stay there for 55 days, apart from a daily cycle of a crowd of nearly five million bathing at the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati, meet each other, pray, join their gurus, camp with sadhus and ascetics and safely return to their native places are the things worth studying.”

– ‘KumbhMela- Mapping the Ephemeral Mega-City’

Electric water scooters for emergency equipments Source: Wikimedia Commons
Electric water scooters for emergency equipments. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • The Kumbh Mela of 2013 was organised in Allahabad under the government of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. Yadav launched the Hindi translation of the book in Lucknow on Monday, August 1.
  • 390 million of total calls and messages were sent and received over the period of the mela making it the largest usage of mobile phones in a concentrated area.
  • Total 146 million messages were exchanged and over 245 million calls were made.

prepared by Chetna Karnani, at NewsGram. Twitter: @karnani_chetna

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Shankaracharya: A remarkable genius that Hinduism produced (Book Review)

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

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He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita
He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita.

Title: Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker; Author: Pavan K. Varma; Publisher: Tranquebar Press; Pages: 364; Price: Rs 699

This must be one of the greatest tributes ever paid to Shankaracharya, the quintessential “paramarthachintakh”, who wished to search for the ultimate truths behind the mysteries of the universe. His genius lay in building a complete and original philosophical edifice upon the foundational wisdom of the Upanishads.

A gifted writer, Pavan Varma, diplomat-turned-politician and author of several books including one on Lord Krishna, takes us through Shankara’s short but eventful span of life during which, from having been born in what is present-day Kerala, he made unparalleled contributions to Hindu religion that encompassed the entire country. Hinduism has not seen a thinker of his calibre and one with such indefatigable energy, before or since.

Shankara’s real contribution was to cull out a rigorous system of philosophy that was based on the essential thrust of Upanishadic thought but without being constrained by its unstructured presentation and contradictory meanderings.

He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita. He wrote extensive and definitive commentaries on each of them. Of course, the importance he gave to the Mother Goddess, in the form of Shakti or Devi, can be traced to his own attachment to his mother whom he left when he set off, at a young age, in search of a guru and higher learning.

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.
Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess.

Against all odds, Shankara created institutions for the preservation and propagation of Vedantic philosophy. He established “mathas” with the specific aim of creating institutions that would develop and project the Advaita doctrine. He spoke against both caste discriminations and social inequality, at a time when large sections of conservative Hindu opinion thought otherwise.

Shankara was both the absolutist Vedantin, uncompromising in his belief in the non-dual Brahman, and a great synthesiser, willing to assimilate within his theoretical canvas several key elements of other schools of philosophy. He revived and restored Hinduism both as a philosophy and a religion that appealed to its followers.

Also Read: Hinduism: The Nine Basic Beliefs that you need to know

Varma rightly says that it must have required great courage of conviction as well as deep spiritual and philosophical insight for Shankaracharya to build on the insights of the Upanishads a structure of thought, over a millennium ago, that saw the universe and our own lives within it with a clairvoyance that is being so amazingly endorsed by science today. The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara’s philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess. The added value of the book is that it has, in English, a great deal of Shankara’s writings. Unfortunately, most Hindus today are often largely uninformed about the remarkable philosophical foundations of their religion. They are, the author points out, deliberately choosing the shell for the great treasure that lies within. This is indeed a rich book. (IANS)