The Kumbh Mela can be daunting. About 100 million people gathering in one place over one and a half months with the task of having to assemble all the resources and utilities that come with such a mass of humanity. And, despite India's reputation for administrative incompetence, the Kumbh actually turns out to be very well arranged and comparable with some of the biggest, most-well-funded events on the planet, at least according to this team from Harvard University.

The Kumbh Mela is held every third year at one of four different places on a rotation, with believing Hindus getting together to purge themselves of their sins by taking a dip in the holy water of a sacred river. A team of scholars and students from Harvard who studied the 2013 Kumbh Mela in Allahabad have concluded that it was much better organized than the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010. In a recent book, Kumbh Mela – Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity, the scholars explain their conclusion.

Over 50 Harvard students, professors and other staff members came together to visit Kumbh site where they studied the process of urban planning, public health, property rights and other issues that come from having the largest gathering people on earth all in one place.

“We are particularly interested in extreme urbanism because it’s a condition where a megacity is built temporary. We think it has relevance to rapidly growing cities in India but more importantly, it is a big tool to understand the major disaster conditions such as refugee camps and emergency housings where one can deploy a viable urban system very quickly”, says Rahul Malhotra, professor of urban design and planning at Harvard Graduate School of Design in the featured video.


Harvard researchers noted that a township with thousands of tents, bigger than Manhattan, built within a few days to accommodate people for 55 days is worth a study. The various bits of scholarship collected in the book covers the sheer achievement of being able to pull off something like this, that too every three years, and attempts to understand how they went about doing it. Some of the results of their research are collected on their website and their blogs.

Earlier, researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology came up with an app called Nashik Trimbak Kumbh 2015 that helped people locate hospitals, hotels and various emergency sites during the event.