While inaugurating the India Today round table on the Kumbh, ‘Confluence of Minds’, at Lucknow’s Indira Gandhi Pratishthan, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath said the Kumbh “symbolises the confluence of three rivers, the holy Ganga which represented the ancient tradition and heritage of India, the Yamuna representing modernity, and the invisible Saraswati, representing wisdom.” Speaking a day after the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party had formally stitched up an alliance here, Adityanath, raking up the internal differences within the SP, said, “Younger brother Shivpal Yadav has already offered (party patriarch) Mulayam Singh Yadav a ticket from his party (the newly formed Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party-Lohia). Also, son Akhilesh Yadav needs to tell the public whether he will support father Mulayam’s candidacy for prime ministership, or whether he will back BSP president Mayawati.” (see interview)
Meanwhile, scholars at the india today round table discussed the what, where, when and why of the Kumbh. Etymologically, the Kumbh, they argued, comes from the root ‘kumbhak’ (sacred pitcher with the elixir of immortality). Prof. Bharat Gupt of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) linked the Kumbh with the confluence of three rivers and argued that it is symbolic of the intellectual ferment and wisdom that has been part of the country’s journey since time immemorial. Dr Santosh Kumar Shukla of JNU’s Sanskrit and Indic Studies department recounted with textual evidence from the Vedas how “gods and demons fought over the kumbh (sacred pitcher) of amrit (nectar of immortality) called the ratna (jewel) of samudra manthan (ocean churning)”. Prof. Ram Nath Jha of the same department argued that the “origin of Kumbh Mela was transcribed by 8th century philosopher Adi Shankaracharya, who believed the Kumbh symbolised the essence of consciousness and unity, while the world outside looked very diverse in its various forms”. Prof D.P. Dubey, a historian from Allahabad University and the author of Kumbha Mela: Pilgrimage to the Greatest Cosmic Fair, said that “the kumbha represents the microcosm of Indian civilisation and the totality of Indian cultural traditions. Akin to the Indian concept of the ritual bath, the Kumbh now represents life-flow as water flow”.
Speaking on the ‘lessons in management’ from the Kumbh, DGP O.P. Singh said a comprehensive security architecture has been created, with about 22,000 policemen and 80 companies from the paramilitary rapid action force, provincial armed constabulary, radio communication, National Security Guard, as well as adequate emergency fire services and anti-terrorist squads with air-borne snipers (a first ever) deployed to ensure the safety and security of visitors.
In order to prevent untoward crowd incidents, like the stampede at the Allahabad railway station during the 2013 Maha Kumbh in which 42 people died, the police are ensuring that each pilgrim is in the waters for a maximum of 45 seconds only, more or less the time taken for a quick dip.
Traffic arrangements have been spruced up and parking for 600,000 vehicles at a time have been arranged, said Singh. For the first time, the parking area has been designed as a satellite city with food courts, health kiosks, cloak room for luggage and other amenities. Between 11 and 13 emergency diversion routes have been planned in case of an accident or traffic blocks, given the crores of visitors. The police have been trained to act, according to Singh, “as a friend, a facilitator and a role model instead of simply a security official”.
Manoj Singh, principal secretary of urban development and the point person for the nodal body coordinating the Kumbh mela activities, said, “We are expecting 12 to 14 crore people in the next 50 days, about 2.5 crore on the opening day itself.” A new temporary city has been established on the spot where the Kumbh mela happens in Prayagraj. ‘Divya’ and ‘Bhavya’ (divine and grand) are the two words used to brand the Kumbh. The space allocated for the Kumbh is 150 per cent more than in the past: 3,200 hectares in 2019, compared to around 2,000 hectares in the past.
After the 2013 Mahakumbh, a Harvard University study team led by Prof. Diana Eck and Tarun Khanna had concluded in their report that the biggest problem was lack of adequate sanitation and cleanliness. So this time, a huge focus of the administration has been cleanliness, ensuring sewerage and drainage systems are 100 per cent and zero open defecation, says Singh. A sum of Rs 150 crore has been allotted to sanitation, out of the total Rs 4,300 crore budget allocated to the Kumbh. About 122,000 toilets with sanitation tanks have been constructed for the purpose, replacing the soak pit toilets of the past. Almost 10,000 cusecs of water has been released from the Tehri dam this time, compared to 4,000 cusecs in the past to maintain purity. “The administration has ensured that each of the 227 drains which enter the Ganga and Yamuna from Bijnor district in western Uttar Pradesh to Ballia district in eastern UP have been fully treated to control pollution levels. A parallel public distribution system has been created to provide milk, drinking water, food items and other essentials to the pilgrims and tourists,” says Singh.
Former UP home secretary and 2013 Mahakumbh mela in-charge Mani Prasad Mishra says the main challenge is “crowd management, which starts from the Sangam and extends to 70 to 80 kms beyond Prayagraj city, including traffic management and the ‘event flow’ which begins a few months before the Kumbh commences and lingers on for months after it is over”. The biggest achievement of Kumbh 2019 is the formation of a Prayagraj Mela Corporation, a permanent mechanism to handle all the challenges of the Kumbh before and after the event. And for the first time a move has begun to transform most of the temporary management systems into permanent structures. For example, the integrated command and control traffic system launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which began operating with this Kumbh, is going to be merged with the Integrated Traffic Management System of Uttar Pradesh which handles traffic flow problems in the 10 largest cities of UP.
UP urban development minister Suresh Khanna, in his concluding keynote address, said CM Adityanath has redefined the Ardh Kumbh as the Kumbh since he does not believe “such an auspicious celebration as the Kumbh can be partial but only wholesome, perfect and complete”. Khanna said the UP state government had provided a budget of Rs 2,900 crore for the Kumbh, while the Centre contributed Rs 1,200 crore. This has helped transform the entire city and the Kumbh with the twin motives of divya and bhavya (divine and grand). Khanna said the Kumbh has three purposes: snaan, dhyan and daan (bathing in the holy Sangam, meditation and charity). The historical evidence of philanthropy begins with King Harshvardhan, who used to hold his quinquennial assembly meetings on the sands of the holy confluence at Prayag and in a grand act of philanthropy donate and distribute all his possessions, including the clothes he wore.