An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Harvard Research team in India to study Maha Kumbh 2013; Gather, analyze “Big Data” from the largest human gathering

A team from Harvard is in town at the Mahakumbh.  In a bid to understand the dynamics of the largest human gathering on planet.  It also presents interesting opportunities for some on the team.  Including integrating their interest in “Big Data” to make sense out of this entire human get-together.

The effort is bring called ‘Mapping India’s Kumbh Mela’.  The multi-disciplinary team wants to understand how such a large number of people can come together peacefully and celebrate this millenia old ancient festival.  Diana Eck, one of the faculty members put it very well:

“There’s no doubt that the mela is an incredible, even astonishing, human undertaking. Just the organizational logistics involved in managing so many people over a few months in one spot is tremendous. Our project seeks to understand this unique phenomenon better,”

Tarun Khanna, also with the team, calls the Township that has come up as ‘pop-up megacity’ and compares it to Istanbul and Lagos.  The opportunity to gather and then dig through the datasets collected at the Mela is an exciting opportunity.

the big data that will be generated from the Mela is something that may lead to entirely new conclusions, say these researchers. Meena Sonea Hewett, associate director of the South Asia Institute at the university, which is helping coordinate this project in association with the Harvard Global Health Institute, points to one interesting aspect — mapping the use of cellphone networks at the mela. Data like this could help researchers better understand geographic patterns with pilgrims, for instance. As Khanna stresses, “It could become one of the biggest datasets around; it’s something even physicists and public health experts might find useful in many ways.”

Sadly though, while the rest of the world is marvelling and trying to understand the beauty, and indeed the complexity of what is happening at the MahaKumbh, India’s own are doing their best to run the whole undertaking down.  That shows that most of the Indians are still not out of the colonial mindgames.

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