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Eck, center, discusses the Kumbh Mela project

On Friday, April 18, SAI traveled to the West Coast for the first event in its San Francisco Series, ‘Conversations with Harvard Faculty,’ which brings Harvard faculty to California for events on a variety of topics related to South Asia.

Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, Fredric Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Member of the Faculty of Divinity, Harvard Divinity School, engaged with a group of 20 Harvard friends and alumni at the event, hosted by David R. Priest, M.D, HC ’90, a former student of Eck’s.

Eck presented on the Mapping the Kumbh Mela project, a SAI interdisciplinary research initiative that studies the largest human gathering in the world. The Kumbh Mela is a Hindu religious fair that occurs every twelve years at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers on the plains of northern India in Allahabad. The festival took place from January 14 to February 25, 2013 in Allahabad.

Eck explained the origins of the research project, and how interest grew from faculty in many different disciplines. Because of its size and complexity, Eck explained that the Kumbh Mela inspired interdisciplinary research in a number of complementary fields – business, technology and communications, urban studies and design, religious and cultural studies, environmental science and public health.

Throughout her presentation, Eck tracked the evolution of the process. Her presentation raised many questions from the audience about the logistics of coordinating such a large human gathering in a temporary pop-up city. Audience members were also curious about SAI’s role in coordinating the ongoing research project among faculty from different disicplines. The Mela project is an example of a successful interdisciplinary effort where faculty, students, and practitioners who wouldn’t otherwise interact, came together through SAI’s coordination.

Watch a video about the Kumbh:





Check back on our website for information about upcoming SAI events in San Francisco this year, featuring:

Tarun KhannaJorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School; Director of the South Asia Institute

Venkatesh Murthy, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

Alan Garber, Provost, Harvard University; Mallinckrodt Professor of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School; Professor of Economics, Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health