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British-era Kumbh documents on display in Delhi

British-era Kumbh documents on display in Delhi

New Delhi: Not long after the 2019 Prayagraj Kumbh concluded this month, an exhibition of rare archival material on the grand cultural festival opened at the National Archives of India, here on Monday.

The exhibition, which displays rare official and public documents dating to 1916-1945, marks the 129th Foundation Day of the National Archives of India and was inaugurated by Culture Ministry Secretary Arun Goel.

Entitled 'Kumbh', the single-gallery exhibition is an interesting insight into the management and organisation of Kumbh Mela, more than a century back. 

It is open for public viewing till April 30, from Monday-Friday (10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.).

The exhibition's first few panels showcase notifications and internal documents from 1916 onwards, showing the British administration's visible effort to divert the nation's resources to fuel participation in World War I instead of the Kumbh mela.

On view is a "note from Traffic Department, Railway, relating to the measures for stopping the Kumbh Mela, 12 October 1917".

It spells out "measures for the stopping of the Kumbh Mela held at Allahabad in 1918, and failing that, for discouraging pilgrims from attending the same".

As per the archival note, the measures include "prohibition of issue of tickets to intending pilgrims", and allowing running of "only limited number of Mela specials to allow the continuance of coal, government and essential traffic necessary for the successful prosecution of the war".

"Two simultaneous things were happening here. The government was trying to prohibit people from using Railways because that was the only mode of transport at that time, and on the other hand, there were agents being sent out by people to encourage participation," National Archives Assistant Director Sangeeta Mathur told IANS.

Publicity pamphlets in different languages -- Urdu, Hindu and English -- from 1938 are good examples of how Kumbh was publicised to the masses. One such document (from 1938) laid out a list of free 'dharamshalas' that host pilgrims.

Further in the exhibition, one can see an unofficial note from the Railway Department informing about "using an Aeroplane for dropping publicity bills about the arrangements for Kumbh Mela".

It even suggests interviewing people who pick the publicity bills up for feedback.

Notes and charts on handling Mela traffic also catch attention.

"Innovative signs on tickets helped pilgrims get on to their rail coaches. At first, geometric shapes were used, but the common people couldn't differentiate between them.

"So, signs like elephants, scissors, bulls, snakes, and umbrellas were used. You see an elephant on your ticket, and match it with the elephant on the rail coach," Mathur said.

On view is a pamphlet in Punjabi, requesting people to visit Kumbh Mela, explaining the medical qualities of 'gangajal'

Another section of 'Kumbh' shows the medical side of organising the festival.

Shown are a diagram on numbers of seizures from cholera in Kumbh, a plan for types of 'mela' public urinals and public conveniences, and a statement showing the number of hospitals in the mela area and the staff engaged in them.

Before ending the exhibition with a range of insightful press clippings, one sees a section on compulsory inoculation and medical inspection for pilgrims.

Digital copies of the exhibited material can also be accessed through digital panels in the gallery space.

A QR-code-based app will soon be available to the public on their smartphones to access and store the images of the archives, another official told IANS.




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