Kumbh Mela 2016

Modern technology in harmony with ancient rituals at Nashik’s Simhastha Kumbh Mela

Millions of devotees hoping to cleanse themselves of sin at the Simhastha Kumbh Mela at Nashik Trimbakeshwar are unwittingly helping to create high-tech solutions in crowd control, disease outbreak and public security.

A group of  young innovators has launched a digital information platform at the six-week Kumbh Mela, that is helping in maintaining order and calm among the devotees camping near the river bank and piling into the water for one of humanity’s largest religious gatherings.

Twelve years ago, dozens died in a stampede in the same festival. Halfway through this year’s event there have been no such incidents as the immense crowds wade into the temperate waters of Godavari River.

Ramesh Raskar, associate professor at the Massachusets Institute of Technology Media Lab said, “We had thought about Kumbh Mela as this gathering of masses, people who are on path of self-discovery. But in a way, innovation and innovators are also always on a path of self-discovery.” He further added, “We want to see how we can take this amazing challenge in crowds, food, security, housing, transportation and see how we can make this a tech-savvy Kumbh Mela.”

The app compiles data taken at medical tents and tells the festival-goers about any outbreaks of dengue, jaundice and other diseases, though so far there have been no outbreaks of note. It also uses cell phone power data to estimate crowd sizes, the digital platform also gives officials information that helps them decide when to put up blockades or disperse crowds.

Government officials are embracing the new tech, and have ordered telecom companies to share data with them. District official Raghunath Gawade said, “If the density of the crowd is increasing at some location, we will control the crowd using a hold-and-release method.”

The KumbhaThon team has discovered that most bathers prefer to go into the river in the afternoon, and mornings are relatively unpopulated. On the most auspicious bathing days, however, the riverfront is constantly jam-packed.

MIT student Mrinal Mohit said, “We are getting (data on) how many people are in the vicinity of a particular tower for that company, and we are using that data to track crowds in the Nashik city as well as provide the administration with tips or analytics on how they can better plan according to that data.”

Another innovation for counting crowds came from the mind of a 15-year-old boy from Nashik. Hearing about the KumbaThon effort almost two years ago, Nilay Kulkami teamed up with three other tech engineers to develop a rubber doormat that counts footsteps and then reports the data back to officials. “I wanted to do something that is useful for people. Developing a game, that’s not useful. It’s better to make something to help people,” he said of their invention, which they call “Ashioto” which means “the power of footsteps” in Japanese.

Pilgrims at the Kumbh Mela were enthusiastic about the tech being shown through the Kumbha Thon app. Khemchand Dagga, a 45 year old from Hyderabad to be a part of the festival said, “It is really wonderful. It will be very easy for everybody to manage the routes for the entry, exit, everything.”

At the same time, the MIT team is compiling an enormous dataset that can help shed light on how people use technology. MIT Media Lab scientist Pratik Shah said, “Millions of Indians from all over the country, of all castes, classes, races and ethnic backgrounds congregate on Nashik. And we think that this is a perfect setting to sample the country.”

Src : ibnlive.com (Image src)

Published On: September 20, 2015
Last Updated On: November 13, 2015

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