Mapping the Kumbh Mela

Interdisciplinary faculty and student research on a “Pop-up Mega City”

Mapping the Kumbh Mela

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Mapping the Ephemeral Mega-City: An interdisciplinary research project

KumbhMelaLogoWebThe Kumbh Mela is a Hindu religious fair that occurs every 12 years at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers on the plains of northern India. The next festival will take place from January 14 – February 25, 2013 in Allahabad. Since its inception early in the first millennium CE, the Kumbh Mela has become the largest public gathering in the world. Today it draws tens of millions of pilgrims over the course of a few weeks. On the three “main bathing days” in 2001, the crowd was estimated at some 30 million. The Mela provides a forum for both individual and collective expressions of faith as pilgrims, religious teachers, and followers of monastic orders converge from all parts of India.

On the broad sandy flats left after the rainy season by the receding waters of the meeting rivers, a temporary city is created for the Kumbh Mela. This “pop-up” mega-city will house the Kumbh Mela’s many short-term pilgrims as well as the Hindu faithful and the working personnel who stay for the duration. This city, laid out on a grid, is constructed and deconstructed within a matter of weeks. Creating this huge encampment entails multiple aspects of contemporary urbanism:  city planning and management, engineering and spatial zoning, an electricity grid, water lines and sanitation systems, food and water distribution plans, hospitals and vaccination centers, police and fire stations, public gathering spaces, and stages for entertainments and plays.  Most important are the many encampments of religious teachers and monastic orders in neighborhoods that include devotees as well as volunteers who work on their behalf to provide services and sustenance to the crowds.

Because of its size and complexity, the Kumbh Mela inspires interdisciplinary research in a number of complementary fields –urban studies and design, religious and cultural studies, environmental science and public health, technology and communications. In January 2013, an team of faculty from across Harvard University as well as undergraduate and graduate students will travel to Allahabad to engage with this “pop-up mega-city.” The research team has gathered throughout the fall semester 2012 to develop research questions and strategies. Outcomes will be presented by students and faculty at a university-side symposium hosted by SAI in the spring semester 2013, and will be submitted for a final visual and textual publication.

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Written by jbordo

January 4, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Posted in All

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