kinds of religious groups present at the festival, devotional practices, tourism and environmental concerns, while the health team would study water quality, sanitation techniques, health clinic readiness and presence and networks of hospitals and public health facilities.
The team from Harvard Business School would gather information on business practices of the 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.