Mapping the Kumbh Mela

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

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Mapping the Mela in the Media

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Over the past few months, media outlets across the globe have captured Harvard’s project on the Kumbh.  Below is a snapshot of the media coverage.  The South Asia Institute at Harvard is collecting these and will keep posting them as newer articles are published.

A pop-up city becomes an 80 million person laboratory (, April 24, 2013)


“Over the next few months the researchers will be tagging and sorting images, analyzing patient flows at hospitals, breaking down cellphone data, and generally trying to wrestle their mela research into something useful—both for improving the next mela, in 2025, and for understanding how temporary settlements operate anywhere in the world.”

Maha Kumbh miracle: Harvard to hear it from CM (The Times of India, April 14, 2013)

“Following the success of the 55-day Maha Kumbh mela, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and his team of officials has accepted an invitation by the Harvard University to make a presentation on how the government organised and managed the religious congregation.”

Harvard to get Kumbh lesson from Akhilesh (The Indian Express, April 13, 2013)


“Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has accepted the Harvard University invitation to make a presentation on how the state government organised the 55-day religious congregation during Kumbh, which attracted millions of people from India and around the world, and went off smoothly.  The chief minister will speak at the university campus on April 25.”

Lessons of a Temporary City (Harvard Gazette, April 4, 2013)


“Presenters from the GSD, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard School of Public Health, and the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights described their findings — from archival research into melas as far back as the mid-1800s to epidemiological data on disease outbreaks at this year’s festival — all of which the project’s coordinators hope to make available online with the help of the Harvard libraries.”

Inside the ultimate pop-up megacity (India Abroad, March 15, 2013)

“With high-powered handheld cameras mounted to a kite and zoomed high in the air, a handful of Harvard students joined Graduate School of Design Professor Rahul Mehrotra at the Maha Kumbh Mela, the mystical, magical and mind-boggling phenomenon, which every 12 years draws over 100 million pilgrims.”

What does Kumbh Mela mean to Harvard? (HBS News, March 11, 2013)

“The Maha Kumbh Mela came to an end yesterday in Allahabad, India, after 55 days. Senior Lecturer and Dauten Real Estate Fellow John Macomber, a member of the School’s Finance Unit, reflected on his recent visit to the world’s largest religious gathering and the impact it will have on his teaching and research.”

Ganges turns fecal lab as wealthy bathe with nude mystics (, March 11, 2013)

Ganges Turns Fecal Lab as Billionaires Bathe With Naked Mystics

“’I don’t know if you can pollute the Ganges or the Yamuna any more than they are already,’ Harvard’s Cash said. ‘That water is sewage. And God knows what else is in it — chemicals to destroy the bacteria as well.’”

India’s Kumbh Mela Ends (Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2013)

“Part of Harvard’s research was aimed at exploring how cities of the future will be constructed as the world urbanizes. ’30 years from now there will be twice as many people living in cities,’ Mr. Macomber said.”

Harvard Business School at the Kumbh Mela (, March 7, 2013)

Video with team member John Macomber

Pop-up megacity is a lesson for India (Financial Times, March 1, 2013)

Temporary tents provided for devotees during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad

“Onno Ruhl, head of the World Bank in India, calls it ‘an incredible logistical operation’. Harvard researchers describe it as ‘a pop-up megacity’.”

Tracking disease in a tent city (Harvard Gazette, March 1, 2013)


“The Harvard visitors’ ambitious plan was to track diseases spreading among four of the Kumbh’s 14 sectors in real time, tracing them back to their sources, and hopefully stopping their spread before large-scale damage could be done.”

Management, Maha Kumbh style (The Hindu, February 28, 2013)

“How does one manage a human sea along a river! No surprise that Harvard Business School, among others, evinced interest in studying the organisation of the mammoth gathering at Maha Kumbh 2013 on the banks of the Ganga in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. Without doubt the occasion holds important lessons for future managers.”

Harvard’s tips for Kumbh organisers (, February 28, 2013)

“Stunned by the scale and magnitude of this ‘city’ raised on the sandy riverbed, a team of 50 faculty members and students of Harvard University spent 20 days here, documenting and analysing how this largest gathering of humanity is organised.”

Among millions, a blank slate (Harvard Gazette, February 22, 2013)


“The Kumbh, at first glance, wouldn’t seem to offer [Tiona Zuzul and Vaughn Tan, both pursuing PhDs at Harvard Business School] much: It’s the last place one would look for haute cuisine or high-tech startups. But for Tan and Zuzul, and for many of the Harvard researchers drawn here, the Kumbh offered the promise of a true blank slate.”

The Sangam of Three Waters – Clean, Grey and River (FXB Center Blog, February 21, 2013)

By team member Michael Vortmann

Women collecting greywater for drinking - in spite of message that the water isn't potable.

“One of the key logistical challenges at the Kumbh is managing water flows for the millions of people who come to bathe… In addition to the extensive systems providing clean drinking water, greywater also has separate and actively managed catchment systems.”

Kumbh Mela and Burning Man: What the world’s two craziest pop-up cities have in common (, February 20, 2013)

“You can’t be at the Kumbh Mela long without hearing a comparison between the Hindu festival and Burning Man, the offbeat American gathering that takes place in the Nevada desert. While they are vastly different in size (see graphic above), they share the extraordinary similarity that both are pop-up cities built and disassembled in a matter of months. But on closer inspection, that’s just the beginning of the similarities between these two fascinating events.”

EMcounting the Mela: From Chennai to Prayag (FXB Center Blog, February 20, 2013)

By team member Satchit Balsari

FXB/EMcounter Team consolidating a long day’s work

“Yesterday, our team crossed the 30,000 mark. Since January 27th, 2013, the four sector hospitals that we have been following have seen over 30,000 patients… The tool we used to log data is called ‘EMcounter’.”

A sea of humanity in Kumbh holds clues to how we behave (The National, February 20, 2013)

Indian devotees carry containers with water from the Sangam or confluence of the Yamuna, Ganges and mythical Saraswati rivers at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad on February 10, 2013. Robert Schmidt / AFP Photo

“The Harvard students and their professors, nearly 40 in all, had a somewhat different agenda. They were here in January to ‘map the Kumbh’ to understand the dynamics of a temporary city during pilgrimage.”

Mapping the Kumbh Mela (Times of India, February 18, 2013)

“Kumbh Mela, the world’s most grandiose religious festival, saw an unusual group of visitors for an unusual purpose this year. A multi-disciplinary team of over 50 faculty members, staff and student researchers from Harvard University visited the event to document and analyse the processes involved in its successful functioning.”

Harvard impressed with Kumbh’s orderliness (Times of India, February 17, 2013)

“The first verdict from the international health experts at the Kumbh Mela to record diseases among pilgrims has been positive. The team comprising mainly medical doctors from Harvard University in Massachusetts, USA, is ‘largely impressed’ with the orderliness of the Mela and the lack of any major disease outbreak.  However, the caveats follow.”

Harvard doctors give Kumbh health facilities thumbs up (Times of India, February 16, 2013)

The main objective of the Harvard team, which had the support of the National Disaster Management Authority and the Allahabad Medical College, was to map patterns of diseases, water distribution, sanitation and disaster management plans.”

Harvard docs impressed by Kumbh Mela orderliness (, February 15, 2013)

kumbh mela

“Largely impressed with the orderliness of the Mela and the lack of any major disease outbreak there, the team of international health experts comprising mainly medical doctors from Harvard University in Massachusetts, USA, stationed at the Kumbh Mela to record diseases among pilgrims have given a positive verdict so far.”

Das Kumbh Mela in Indien (ZDF Media – Germany, February 14, 2013)

[German television spot featuring Public Health team]

Saving the mother river (Harvard Gazette, February 14, 2013)


“On this afternoon, the group [of Harvard students] was headed to a stretch of beach at the Sangam to track down Swami Chidanand Saraswati… one of the leading faces of the ‘Green Kumbh’ movement, a new feature at this year’s Maha Kumbh Mela and an offshoot of a broader push for environmentally conscious pilgrimage in India.”

US takes market tips from Kumbh vendors (The Telegraph – Calcutta, February 12, 2013)

“‘We’re trying to understand how the vendors cope with the risks and uncertainty in a fast-changing market,’ said Breza, an assistant professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business School in New York. ‘What we learn from the Kumbh may some day help small and large business firms elsewhere in the world,’ Breza told The Telegraph.”

Ephemeral Hospitals, Enduring Insights: Healthcare at the Kumbh (FXB Center blog, February 11, 2013)

By team member Dhruv Kazi

Ambulances stationed at Central Hospital.

“Delivering health care to 100 million people is an enormous task anywhere, but it’s even more challenging when the city – and hence its hospitals – must be temporary.”

Kumbh Mela: Case study in chaos attracts Harvard Business School (International Business Times, February 11, 2013)

“Macomber’s case study will home in on three global themes: massive and rapid urbanization; scarcity of basic resources such as clean air, water, electricity, land, coupled with excess traffic and pollution; and the inability of governments to effectively address these problems.”

How the deadly stampede outside the Kumbh Mela could have been avoided (, February 11, 2013)

By team member Logan Plaster

” Based on the observations made by our research team from the Harvard School of Public Health, there are at least five simple ways that Kumbh organizers can decrease the chance of a repeat event without laying a single concrete block of new infrastructure.”

Mahakumbh 2013 becomes a subject of public health research for Harvard University students  (India Today, February 10, 2013)

“The PHT [Harvard’s Public Health Team] has roped in 10 medical students and interns from Allahabad and Mumbai. Using specially developed smartphone applications, they spend hours at four of the 14 selected medical centres at the mela to collate data that go to a central server.”

Maha Kumbh Mela: City gears up for biggest gathering of humanity (Gulf News, February 9, 2013)

“The pop-up city has generated a lot of interest among academics, researchers and companies who are coming here to study crowd dynamics, crowd behaviour, mobile and internet phone usage among other things.  Over 300 journalists from 50 countries and hundreds of Indian journalists are camping here to cover this mega spectacle of faith that has baffled Western academics.  A team of Harvard University is here to study ‘economics and logistics’ behind the city.”

How a gathering of 30 million holds the answer to medical record keeping (, February 8, 2013)

By team member Logan Plaster

iPad used in a health clinic

“Our team from Harvard’s School of Public Health arrived at the Kumbh Mela this week with a simple goal. Deploy an electronic record system to help health clinics record and collate complaints so that they can be tracked over time… Harvard’s team created a simple iPad-based electronic medical record that tracks chief complaints and prescriptions and then deployed an enthusiastic team of Indian medical students and interns to gather the data from four clinics each day.”

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Written by deonnie

January 31, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Posted in All, Articles, Media