Summer Research Fellowship Programme of India's Science Academies

Determination of pedestrians' personal space in mass religious gatherings -  A case study of Kumbhmela

Abhinav Gyan

B.Tech. in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Patna, Bihta, Patna 801103, Bihar

Dr. Ashish Verma

Associate Professor, Dept. of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore 560012, Karnataka


Humans tend to maintain a space or distance from others (both people and objects), which is called as personal space. Personal space can be defined as the physical distance between two individuals in a social environment. It varies from person to person, depending on culture and context, and there are significant individual differences too. If the personal space of an individual is invaded, thenit causes uneasiness to the individual which, in turn, triggers the defensive reflexes of the body. Studying personal space includes the ability to recognize the various zones of involvement and the activities, relationships, and emotions associated with each zone. This work tries to formulate and define personal space in high density crowd situations in the Kumbh Mela, one of the world’s largest mass religious gatherings. Video data of pilgrims taking part in the Panchkroshi Yatra, a religious walkathon which is a part of Kumbh mela (Ujjain, 2016), is used for the analysis of factors affecting personal space. To identify the thresholds of personal space, walking speed of individuals, gender, presence of luggage and the number of males and females surrounding an individual have been considered.. The data extraction is done using Traffic Data Extractor (developed by IIT Bombay). A total of 102 groups were selected for the analysis, where each person was carefully tracked through the entire frame-course of the video, and their characteristics (gender, presence of luggage and number of people surrounding) were also noted. Of these 726 persons, 538 were females (74.10%) and 188 were males (25.89%) and out of those people, 569 persons were carrying luggage (78.37%). The entire sample was segregated into two groups; the female-centric group, and the male- centric group. Of this, almost 85% of the female centric group and 55% of male centric group had head baggage. The bubble tapers in the longitudinal direction while maintaining approximately the same distance laterally. This refutes the assumptions of circular personal space as reported in earlier literatures, especially in situations of medium density. It is also noted that as walking speed increases, personal space increases. This could also be the result of lower densities, which permits people to walk at a higher pace. A new insight from this study is the effect of the dominant gender group on the personal space.

Keywords: Personal space, Inter-personal distance, Mass religious gatherings

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