Maha Kumbh Mela: Now a Harvard University case study

Jan 20 2013, 14:12 IST
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Maha Kumbh Mela: Now a Harvard University case study. (Reuters) Maha Kumbh Mela: Now a Harvard University case study. (Reuters)
SummaryThe Maha Kumbh Mela is considered the largest public gathering in the world.

Kumbh, including the interaction of the public and private sectors and would also examine the way in which technology, media, internet connections and cellular networks play a role in this year's logistics as never before.

Plaster said the scale of the gathering can be gauged by imagining the entire population of Shanghai-about 23 million-camping on a four-by-eight kilometer field, along with "the mass of humanity every last man, woman and child in New York City and you're getting closer to the Kumbh's expected attendance. But still not quite there."

He hoped 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 festivals.

"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," he said.

The "size and complexity" of the Kumbh Mela is inspirational for inter-disciplinary research in a number of complementary fields of urban studies and design, religious

and cultural studies, environmental science and public health, technology and communications, Harvard said.

The outcomes by each school's research team would be presented by students and faculty at a university-side symposium hosted by the South Asia Initiative in the spring semester 2013, and will be submitted for a final visual and textual publication.

Plaster said the religious gathering caught Harvard's attention as it saw the Kumbh Mela as a "unique opportunity to study the formation and inner-workings of a pop-up mega city."

"Where recently there was nothing but a barren flood plain there will soon be a thriving 'city' complete with hospitals, sanitation systems, markets and police.

"The Kumbh has always operated in this capacity, but for a variety of reasons, the 2013 festival represents a significant shift towards seeing the festival as a seminal academic learning environment," he added.

With the Maha Kumbh Mela taking place once every 12 years, the year 2013 marks the first Kumbh which would be criss-crossed with cell phone towers and where a critical mass of people would be using mobile phones.

"That environment creates a unique opportunity for researchers interested in studying big data. They'll be looking into questions like how anonymised cell phone data can assist in infectious disease mapping," Plaster said.

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