‘Kumbh Mela’, the largest congregation on the globe, is often used as a plot device in Bollywood movies. Surprisingly, the impact of this mela on our economy is, too, like a Bollywood movie - unimaginable and unrealistic.
The gist of ‘Kumbh Mela’ can be very well realised through a fairly prevalent myth in Hinduism. This old wives' tale, better known as ‘The Churning of the Celestial Ocean of Milk’ or ‘Samudra Manthan’, is one of those unique occasions where the gods and the demons form an alliance. The notion behind this unthinkable union was to get hold of the nectar of immortality (popularly known as amrita). So, as the pot of elixir appeared from the sea, four drops of amrita fell in the four cities of India, now known as Haridwar, Ujjain, Nashik and Prayagraj. These drops fell in the waters of the holiest rivers in the country, namely Ganga, Shipra, Godavari and at the confluence of the rivers of Ganga, Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati (Sangam) respectively. This has, therefore, become the fabrication of the most celebrated festival of the country. Crores of devotees visit the Mela to take a holy dip. Legend has it that a dip in these sacred waters will wash away one's sins and provide salvation. The sheer size and scale of this gala can be understood from the fact that it is visible even from space.
Well, it sure is baffling to believe the fact that a religious gathering can provide a stimulus to the local economy to an implausible extent. But, the numbers speak for themselves.
The ineffable impact of this religious union is unquestionably noteworthy. Taking into account the most recent Kumbh Mela held in 2019 in Prayagraj, it had an estimate to serve a whole 150 million people coming from every corner of the earth. This fair is indeed ‘all hell breaks loose’ for a claustrophobic individual, for the reason that one would barely see any unoccupied space here. The world's largest gathering demanded an equally huge investment. The Yogi Adityanath led UP government allocated Rs 4,236 crores, making it the costliest Kumbh ever. Not only this, but the 2019 mela witnessed expansions in many domains other than just its kitty. A whole new temporary city was set up, with an area spread across 3,200 hectares with 250 roads and 22 bridges. One can only imagine the rate of employment generated, and its consequent impact on the aggregate demand. The government announced special trains and flights for Prayagraj on account of Kumbh.
The Kumbh Mela is truly a sight to behold. The faith fiesta is nothing less than a carnival, with children mingling around, adults dancing in the zeal of Mela, the hospitality of locals, and of course, the awestruck tourists. The atmosphere is full of beans and cheerful.
In consequence, the massive funding was met with an inconceivable return. The gross revenue of the faith carnival stood at a whopping Rs 1.2 lakh crores. The hospitality sector burgeoned very positively. This in turn, engineered large-scale employment giving an unimaginable boost to the business. According to a report of The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), over 6,00,000 employees were hired across numerous sectors. Well, this sure did wonders to do the economy! The domino effect just amplified the whole impact. No matter how chaotic the days of the fest, it's simply worth it at the end of the day!
The earnings fetched through the festivities of the mela can be gauged in terms of employment, business, growth of the informal sector, and marketing, along with the comprehensive economic growth. However, the informal sector needs a larger emphasis altogether. The exhilarated Hindus with the excitement of the holy dip do not really hesitate much on spending. So, the local population showcases all kinds of wares, and displays all sorts of talents to make a business. A peddler would never believe that he could make a fortune just from selling containers at this very festival because everyone hoards the sacred river water. Worshippers, comprising more than the population of most European countries, come together and the enormity of this congregation comes as a ‘blessing in disguise’ for brands. They see the mela as one big opportunity to build brand awareness. They indulge themselves in the arrangements of Kumbh at grass root levels. At 2019 Kumbh, the brands did not just advertise themselves through banners and other mediums, but had also realised other remarkable ways of creating brand recall value. They looked after the special needs of pilgrims during Kumbh like providing lockers, waterproof sarees for women, a chain that a family can hold onto in the crowded streets, etc. All these create a greater socio-economic value. The comfort of the pilgrims is given top priority, and everything done is aimed at creating a better and more homely experience for them.
And so, all that's good comes to an end. Kumbh Mela has always been a topic of conversation accompanied with a heated debate. People, allegedly atheists, argue that the Mela has a disastrous aftereffect on the ecosystem. The magnitude of pollution of the so-called sacred rivers escalates to an extent that the river water becomes unfit for drinking and ironically so, for bathing (the holy dip). River Ganga does the noble work of cleansing its worshipers yet what it gets in return is the status of the most polluted river in the world. The devotees, driven by religious fervour are oblivious to their surroundings. These holy rivers are crying out for desperate help. The aftermath of the whole Kumbh is not just polluted rivers but also, havoc caused to the complete habitat.
However, the government, and a myriad of organisations have acknowledged the gravity of this situation. Their continuous efforts, though not adequate, are raising awareness among people. The ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ attitude of sadhus and worshippers has changed, and attempts are being made from their end as well. The brands, too, are making cautious attempts towards protecting the environment. All these endeavours do not really solve the whole problem, but can still make a difference. A difference that can prove to be very crucial in the years to come.
However, this debate will exist as long as the feud between atheists and theists exists. Although, at the end of the day, Kumbh Mela is all about ‘faith’ and nothing goes beyond that. It is important to note that the mammoth revenue generated from this 49 day long festival is exceptionally incredible, and does miracles for the local economies, precisely the Indian Economy, in specific. The return on investment is monumental and rightly so, The Kumbh Mela acts like an elixir for business.
Now, let’s wait and watch for what the 2025 Maha Kumbh at Prayagraj has in store for us.