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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 14:47 GMT
Hindu festival goes high-tech
Kumbh Mela website
Websites offer history, information and virtual tours
The Kumbh Mela is one of Hinduism's most important festivals stretching back centuries.

But this time the authorities have married modern technology with ancient tradition to regulate as well as market the 42-day event.

Sadhu with mobile phone
State-of-the-art spiritualism
India's celebrated information technology skills are being put to good use with the internet being used to facilitate visitors and the media.

Corporate bodies have also used the festival to aggressively market their products.

While mineral water brands and tea companies are competing for shelf space, international beverage giant Pepsi has struck a deal to promote its drinks at the pilgrim camps.

Celebrity guest list

Tour operators are also pitching the festival, particularly to international visitors, as an exotic, close-up view of Indian tradition.

The Times of India newspaper quotes British tour operator, Cox and Kings, as saying that several Hollywood stars are among celebrities expected at the Kumbh.

Although he declined to name them, The Times suggested the premium guest list could include pop diva Madonna and movie stars Pierce Brosnan, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore and Richard Gere.

German tourist
The exotic mix has enticed foreign tourists
They could expect to be housed in one of several luxury camps that have sprung up in and around the festival site, offering air-conditioned tents and deluxe cottages - all at a price of course.

Technology is also making an appearance at the actual riverside venue of the Kumbh Mela.

The authorities have set up electronic display boards to flash pictures of people lost in the milling crowds, hoping to catch the eye of anxious relatives.

Several information booths have been set up along with numerous cybercafes - although not all of them are reported to be working, in part due to Allahabad's erratic power supply.

Virtual salvation

The officially designated website - www.kumbhallahabad.com - is supported by numerous others, all of which illustrate the history and myths surrounding the Kumbh, offer information on accommodation, dates and bathing times and even virtual tours.


Take a cupful of water in your palms and sprinkle it in all four directions while reciting prayers

Instructions for purifying bath
And for those Hindus who cannot make the event, they can perform their ritual ablutions at home with the click of a mouse.

The Hindi language Webduniya internet site offers detailed instruction on how to take a purifying bath at home, complete with the chanting of ancient Sanskrit hymns on an audio background.

"Dip yourself down to the waist in water. Take a cupful of water in your palms and sprinkle it in all four directions while reciting prayers. Then throw some water at the back over the top of your head," the website states.

The state-of-the-art message on virtual salvation finds its backers even among Hindu traditionalists.

"We don't take the bullock cart nowadays, there are ships, planes and trains," Vishnu Hari Dalmiya of the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad [World Hindu Forum] told AFP.

"So it is fitting that in the new millennium, we are marrying the computer to religion," he said.

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See also:

07 Jan 01 | South Asia
Millions flock to Hindu festival
08 Jan 01 | South Asia
In Pictures: Maha Kumbh Mela
04 Aug 00 | South Asia
Amarnath pilgrimage resumes
08 Jan 01 | South Asia
Pilgrimage to Maha Kumbh Mela
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