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Devotees performing Ganga arati as part of
The Kumbh Mela, world’s largest Hindu spiritual festival, occurs once every 12 years, rotating among four locations in India. In 2010, the Kumbh Mela was held in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, from 1 January to 30 April. Hindus from all over the world came for a holy dip in the divine Ganga. In the span of four months, about 82.8 million pilgrims visited Haridwar. Out of this, more than 16 million came in for a dip on the holiest day of the Kumbh Parv, that is, 14 April.
Tucked in the foothills of the Himalayas, Haridwar was a challenging place for the authorities to host tens of millions of people, particularly because Uttarakhand is a newly formed state in India. The organizing committee had to surmount innumerable challenges such as manpower shortage, lack of technically equipped personnel, a small police force, weak ﬁnancial strength, and many more. But with certain basic project management principles in place, dedication, and commitment, the 2010 Kumbh Mela turned out to be one of the most successful ones since the mela tradition began.
Mr. Anand Bardhan, chief mela ofﬁcer, Government of Uttarakhand says, “Not a single infrastructure resource, human resource, ﬁnancial resource, or administrative work like maintenance of law and order or crowd management or security coverage was in place. The ﬁrst project management task before us was to identify people who would form the managing committee. Once the team was selected, they had to sit down to identify and enumerate the different challenges that would arise in the execution of the project.”
The second challenge that the mela committee faced was to ensure the safety and security of such a large number of people. Terrorist threats made it mandatory to secure the railways, hospitals, buses, and the entire Kumbh area, which was a tough task. The mela authorities had to ensure security as much to the common pilgrim as to numerous VIPs and religious leaders who would visit Haridwar during this period. Also, it was important to ensure all religious activities performed by the various akharas (religious groups) during the period of the mela proceeded peacefully. Akharas have a history of rivalry among one another and a small incident could spark off an altercation.
The tasks before the mela committee were numerous: keeping the processions orderly, maintaining cleanliness, providing water, ambulances, security, ensuring regular communication with the control room and maintenance of sequence and timings of the simultaneous religious events. Moreover, it was crucial to ensure that the pilgrims and general public would not come in the way of the processions that the various religious groups organize. On a regular day, the main streets of Haridwar are crowded. Particularly, Haridwar being an old and congested town with age-old infrastructure, the execution of permanent infrastructure works was difﬁcult and required a lot of coordination efforts. It involved cajoling the different departments while managing the public who faced a lot of inconveniences, especially during the laying of water and sewage pipelines.
Apart from all these challenges, the committee needed to manage the interests of all the mela stakeholders: the rival groups of sadhus (holy men) and akharas, local traders, the municipal authorities, volunteers, security forces, purohits (priests), government ofﬁcials, etc. The mela being a deeply religious and sensitive event, the committee had to keep in mind each group’s religious sentiments and keep their cool even during adverse conditions. It meant withstanding mental and physical stress and ensuring that every individual in the various teams worked towards the common goal of a peaceful and smooth Kumbh.
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