Religion and Culture


Photo Credit: Jenny Bordo


The Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences supported research on Religion and Culture at the Kumbh Mela which gathers millions of people from various castes, classes, regions, and even religions of India in one place.  Pilgrims come to this festival primarily to bathe in, and worship, the Ganges River; be in commune with spiritual leaders; and enjoy religious entertainment.  Members of this team studied these various aspects, and have produced scholarship that contributes to our understanding of this religious festival as well as modern Hinduism more broadly.


One of the major outcomes of this group’s research was observing the concern many people at the Kumbh had about the pollution produced throughout the course of this festival.  One small group of researchers examined the use of trees and plants at the Mela – be they for decoration or worship purposes.  Another small group gathered data on how flowers are used in worship.  They found that the flowers for the most part ended up in the river itself.  This team interviewed members of the Ganga Action Parivar who undertook the work of raking flowers out of the river to clean it up and to raise awareness about the state of the river’s pollution.  This research reflects the burgeoning concern at the Kumbh Mela but also in India more generally, about the effects of religious practices on the environment.


The Team:

Faculty Lead: Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies and Fredric Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society at the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Student Researchers: Kalpesh Bhatt, Isaac Dayno, Felix DeRosen, Anna Kneifel, Brenna McDuffie, Nicholas Roth, Rachel Taylor and Ned Whitman


Photo Credit: Isaac Dayno


Blog entries from this team:


Harvard Gazette news article on this team: