Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity

The Kumbh Mela is the largest religious celebration on earth and the biggest public gathering in the world. The resulting settlement is a virtual mega city. The Kumbh Mela deploys its own roads, pontoon bridges as well as tents serving as residences and venues for spiritual meetings, and social infrastructure such as hospitals, sanitation outlets and vaccination clinics-all replicating the functions of an actual city. The pop-up settlement seamlessly serves up to seven million people, who gather for 55 days, and an additional flux of 0 to 30 million people, who come for cycles on the six main bathing dates.

In 2013, a team from Harvard University, representing faculty from multiple disciplines, researched the large-scale event from its preparation to the actual celebration itself. This was the first systematic study on the Mela as a City: a planned entity, and covers issues of social inclusion, diversity, and even democracy that emerge under the framework of a neutralizing grid of roads that is the organizing armature of the city. This subdivision of the city forms clusters of freedom and facilitates space for individual and group expression. The volume presents the comprehensive research findings and includes city maps, aerial images, analytical drawings and photographs of this spectacular Ephemeral Mega City for the Kumbh Mela.

The Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book and exhibition consolidate research findings and serve as an example of interdisciplinary research conducted between the Harvard University South Asia Institute, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Harvard Global Health Institute, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, and Harvard Business School.

Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India

FXB Center for Health & Human Rights
Government of India
Government of Uttar Pradesh
Harvard Business School
Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Harvard University Global Health Institute
Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Harvard University School of Public Health
Harvard University South Asia Institute

Hatje Cantz

Project Management, on-site research, contributor as part of Harvard team



India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, India
Harvard University, Cambridge, USA
Universidad Adolfo Ibanez, Santiago, Chile