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Last Updated: Friday, 2 February 2007, 01:10 GMT
Harmony lessons of Hindu festival
Mela bathers at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers on the holiest of bathing days
Mela bathers at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers
The largest single gathering of people on Earth could hold the secret to how big communities can live together in harmony, according to researchers.

Psychologists have completed a three-year study into the 30 million strong Kumbh Mela - a Hindu festival in Allahabad, Northern India.

It involved experts from St Andrews, Dundee and Lancaster universities.

The team said its work at the event on the banks of the Ganges overturned many old beliefs about crowd behaviour.

The month-long Mela brings together the equivalent of six times the population of Scotland in one place, yet there is virtually no disorder, crushes or rioting.

The researchers found that even though people at the festival came from different castes and social backgrounds, there was a strong sense of common identity.

'Serene and peaceful'

They said this positive outlook stemmed from a lack of the "them-and-us psychology", which was often the root of social conflict.

Professor Steve Reicher, of St Andrews University, said: "Despite the fact the Mela seems designed to increase stress in every way - it is very noisy day and night, very unhealthy, and very packed - what we found was that actually people feel serene, peaceful and unstressed.

"These various findings raise very important questions about the nature of collective participation and how it can affect both individual wellbeing and social cohesion."

A child Shiva (God of destruction) by the Sangam bathing site
A child Shiva by the Sangam bathing site

The academic said a distinct division existed in Western society between, for example, immigrants and non-immigrants.

He said it was the responsibility of everyone to avoid doing anything to entrench a "them-and-us mentality" between communities, disrupting social cohesion.

Prof Reicher's colleague, Dr Clare Cassidy, said: "Many people argue crowds are bad for you.

"But in the Mela we found that people become more generous, more supportive and more orderly rather than less.

"This is the opposite of a 'walk-on-by society', it is a community where people are attentive to the needs of strangers."

The researchers collaborated with colleagues from a consortium of Indian universities.

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