Mapping the Kumbh Mela

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

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Business Findings of the Kumbh Mela Team (comments for TOI)

leave a comment »

(I drafted these comments in response to a query from Times of India directed through Meena).


1) Purpose of the “Mapping the Kumbh Mela”- South Asia Institute

2) Could you elaborate on the focus of the project? – Faculty member at the South Asia Institute

3) Experience at the Kumbh Mela – Any student visitor

4) Thoughts on the temporary settlement built for the purpose of the Kumbh Mela

5) Findings of the business at Kumbh Mela team – A researcher of the business team (JOHN)

6) Additionally, would it be possible for any one of the student researchers to write a piece of about 350 words on his/ her experiences and findings at the Kumbh Mela? This would be separate story to go in our student speak column.

John’s answers (we will see what gets published):

A:  The Harvard Business School component focused on two aspects of the successful organization and operation of the Kumbh Mela:  one, lessons from administration and leadership, and two: lessons from infrastructure design, delivery, and finance.  Read the rest of this entry »


Written by jdmacomber

February 9, 2013 at 12:58 am

Posted in All, Business, Urbanization

Draft comments about learning – Wall Street Journal

with one comment

(I drafted these comments in response to a query from Wall St. Journal Asia – John)

Q: I’m writing about the Kumbh Mela for the Wall Street Journal and I wondered if I could ask you about your visit there? I read your interesting article in Forbes Magazine about your experience and was very taken by your description of the Mela as a pop-up megacity.
Q: Are there other examples of pop-up megacities in the world? If so how does this compare?
Q: I was also really interested in your comments that future cities will have to learn from the Kumbh Mela. Please could you elaborate on why?
Q: What do you think India can learn from the organization of the Kumbh?

Me: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jdmacomber

February 1, 2013 at 3:15 am

Q&A for “International Business” magazine

leave a comment »

Questions from reporter (via Meena):

Q: The HBS team has just spent time at a completely unique event. Understanding that your research is not complete, can you share any initial impressions about the research experience, especially given all of the prep that went into it?

Q: What do you expect the HBS case study to contribute (again, realizing that your results are not out) to discussions on business or management, especially given that there is no other event in the world like the KM?

Q: During the visit to the KM, were there any particular “teachable moments” that stood out to you? Any anecdotes (that you’re comfortable sharing at this point) that illustrate some bigger lesson?


Q: The HBS team has just spent time at a completely unique event. Understanding that your research is not complete, can you share any initial impressions about the research experience, especially given all of the prep that went into it?

A: Our team included faculty and students from four schools at Harvard, including Divinity, Public Health, Urban Planning, and Harvard Business School (HBS). It’s unusual in academia to have four disciplines doing research together. At the Kumbh Mela, it’s quite obvious that religion, well-being, cities, and finance all combine to lead to a successful experience for tens of millions of pilgrims. The scale of the Kumbh Mela, the explosion of sensory inputs from sound to sight to touch, and the clear spirituality of the pilgrims made it that much more real, that much direct, and that much more intense for all of us. It’s a lot different than, say, a finance professor working alone and doing academic finance work by creating panelized regression on a stock market dataset. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jdmacomber

January 28, 2013 at 2:48 am

Studying India’s Maha Kumbh Mela Festival, Harvard Business Review Blog

leave a comment »

Tarun Khanna, Director of SAI and Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at HBS, writes on the Mapping the Kumbh Mela project in the Harvard Business Review Blog: Studying India’s Maha Kumbh Mela Festival

Written by Nora Maginn

January 26, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Posted in All, Business, Media

Why a Harvard Finance Instructor Went to the Kumbh Mela

with one comment

HBS Working Knowledge at Forbes   Forbes

by John Macomber

…I’m in a winter coat and hat in the January pre-dawn cold and dark, standing on sandbags on a riverbank in the middle of Uttar Pradesh, India. Pilgrims and the faithful and the respectful come to the river this morning by the hundreds, clad in the minimum, praying and splashing and releasing marigold wreaths and rafts of small oil lamps into the river. This is not like any field research I’ve done before.


Two pilgrims pass an Akhara façade in the evening on Triveni Marg, a temporary boulevard. (Photo credit: John Macomber)

Thirty-five Harvard colleagues and I are at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India, a mass pilgrimage in which tens of millions of Hindus gather to bathe at the confluence of the sacred Ganga (Ganges) River, the Yamuna River, and the mythical underground Saraswathi. Legend says that on his return to the Himalaya, Vishnu flew over this spot and dropped sacred nectar from a pitcher – a kumbh.

Six months ago this land was under 30 feet of water. Three weeks from now this will become the largest city on earth, the largest single-purpose gathering of humanity in history. Every 12 years, when the moon and stars are aligned, this becomes the most auspicious spot in Hinduism, and there is a six-week-long festival, or mela, for the millions of pilgrims. The Maha Kumbh Mela is happening right now. It’s expected to draw close to 200 million people over almost eight weeks, and as many as 30 million in a single day. The Harvard team is here to learn about why and how.

Our team is led by Prof. Diana Eck of the Harvard Divinity School. She is a world expert on pilgrimages and the author of definitive books about the rivers of India.   Prof. Rahul Mehrotra, chair of the department of urban planning and design at the Harvard Design School, has a team on site mapping and photographing the city that has sprung up here.  Prof. Greg Greenough of the Harvard School of Public Health is directing researchers interested in everything from the pH of the Ganga to the quality and quantity of toilets to the structure of the medical response teams in place; after all, from time immemorial pilgrimages have been perfect places to transfer and share not only information, but disease as well.   From Harvard Business School, I am here to discover what the Khumb Mela can teach me about real estate, urbanization, sustainability, and infrastructure.   We are all here to witness how devotion, design, health, and finance come together…

Read more on Forbes Working Knowledge

Read more on HBS Working Knowledge

Written by jdmacomber

January 25, 2013 at 3:21 am

Business Insights from the Point of view of Infrastructure, Urbanization, and Finance – first thoughts

leave a comment »


The Brain Trust – Rahul, Jenny, Diana

23 Jan: Evening in India, morning in Boston.  By now the Harvard team is departing Prayag. The next big shahi snan is Paush Purnima on 27 Jan and we want to get out of the way of the naga sadhus…and lest we forget, classes start Jan 28.

Here are some first thoughts on business insights from our journey and how to uncover those insights in a setting of participant centered learning (HBS discussion classrooms).   (This is the summary I would have conveyed while all were assembled at Lakshmi Kutir camp, had I not departed early on 21 Jan).

Much of the Indian press has reported that Harvard is doing “a case study” [This is generally understood to be an HBS format for presenting information].  Some press even wraps all of our efforts into the descriptor “Harvard Business School.”   One of my objectives in preparing HBS teaching material will be to straighten out this misconception with respect to Harvard Mapping the Kumbh Mela and be a voice for Divinity, Urban Planning and Design, Public Health, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.   Think of me, business guy, as a distribution channel to a particular audience of content that really has Diana, Rahul, Greg, and 30 exciting students at the core.

I think about preparing teaching material that will draw out important insights that are not well covered elsewhere and are not obvious.  Additionally, I would like the material to lead to frameworks and take-home value that is re-useable many times in many situations, not just with respect to Mahakumbh in Allahabad (although if we collectively can help with future Melas, terrific).   Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jdmacomber

January 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Posted in All, Business

Harvard’s Next Case Study: Atlantic’s Quartz Blog Post

leave a comment »

Harvard’s next case study: The logistics and economics behind Kumbh Mela, the largest human gathering in history

“The hope is that by studying a pop-up mega-city, researchers would learn lessons applicable to a wide range of mass gathering events, from refugee camps to music festivals like Burning Man. How do people move en masse? How can the spread of disease be kept in check using minimal technology? The questions aren’t new, but by bringing four major disciplines under one tent—literally—Harvard is creating a new strain of dialogue, one which just might be able to keep up with the crush of the crowd.”

Logan Plaster is an editor and writer in New York, and is the managing editor of Emergency Physicians Monthly. Logan will be at the Kumbh Mela in early February with the team from Harvard School of Public Health.

Written by Nora Maginn

January 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Posted in All, Business, Media