‘Participation in congregations promotes well-being'



Allahabad: A sense of "shared identity" and an attitudinal shift "from competition to cooperation" promotes a feeling of well-being among those who take part in congregations like the ongoing Maha Kumbh here, claims a study conducted by an Indo-British research collaboration.

The study, which claims to be "possibly the largest Anglo-Indian social science project that has ever been", and contents of which were shared with the media here today, was conducted by psychologists from nine Universities of the two countries ? five of the varsities being in India and the remaining four in the United Kingdom.

Elaborating on the research, Nick Hopkins from the Dundee University said "We conducted our research on pilgrims observing penance, known as Kalpavasa, at the Magh Mela held annually at the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna here which may not be as huge as the ongoing Kumbh but is still a large one wherein hundreds of thousands of people take part every year."

Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews said the behaviour of the Kalpavasis who spend a month following a "harsh and repetitive routine" with their attitudes having shifted, even if temporarily, "from competition to cooperation" is in stark contrast with "the crowd at a railway station where everybody is jostling for space and ready to push each other down."

The key to this unique behaviour of the crowd at these congregations lay in "thinking of others as 'one of us' and believing that others see you as 'one of us'..... It has to do with the way we treat others, even complete strangers, who are part of such a crowd," Reicher said.

This, he said, could offer a possible explanation for the fact that pilgrims do not suffer on account of the lack of hygiene and the noise pollution that is associated with such congregations, which have been described as "bad for health" by a prestigious medical journal like Lancet in a number of articles "not long ago".

"No doubt the Mela does pose real health threats and it would be a folly to ignore them. But this is only one side of the story. Indeed one of the most remarkable findings of our research is that participation in the Mela actually increases people's mental and psychological well-being," he added.

PTI