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Mapping India's Kumbh Mela

Jana Swasthya Project: 2015 Kumbh Mela

Real-Time-Disease Surveillance at the World’s Largest Gatherings

The JanaSwasthya Project is comprised of two components: a large-scale digital disease surveillance program, EMcounter, and a mass screening program for oral health, hypertension and diabetes offered to pilgrims, sadhus, security forces, and all visitors in Nashik and Trimbakeshwar.

The cornerstone of the project is a unique interactive visual analytic tool (“dashboard”) that provides critical disease surveillance data to health officials in real time.

South Asia Institute Coordinators:

Meena Hewett, Executive Director, SAI
Nora Maginn, Programs Manager, SAI
Namita Dharia, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, SAI Intern
Deonnie Moodie, PhD Candidate in the Study of Religion, SAI Intern
Aneesha Dharwadker, former Research Associate, GSD Urban India Initiative




Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City

Authors: Tarun Khanna, Jennifer Leaning, and John Macomber; Editors: Rahul Mehrotra, Felipe Vera, and Diana Eck

Many people are not familiar with Kumbh Mela, and yet it is the largest celebration on earth: depending on the positions of Jupiter, the sun and the moon, Hindus travel to certain places along holy rivers, the Ganges for example, to bathe and cleanse themselves of sin. With a 2013 attendance of approximately 34 million, the triennial pilgrimage requires that the communities hosting the gatherings create functioning temporary structures to transport, house and feed enormous crowds of people.

In 2013, a team from Harvard University monitored the large-scale event from its preparation through to the actual celebration, investigating and documenting the prototypes for flexible urban planning and offering organizers advice on issues around environmental protection. This substantial hardcover presents their comprehensive research findings along with city maps, aerial images and photographs of this most fascinating feat of urban planning.

“A chance of a lifetime”

At an event on May 19 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, faculty leaders from the Kumbh Mela project shared why studying the world's largest gathering provided so many lessons for fields such as business, public health, and urban planning.

Delhi Notebook: How the wedding syndrome could fix India

In a recent column for The Financial Times, ‘How the wedding syndrome could fix India,’ Victor Mallet writes about how the Indian government manages one-off events but not longer-term projects, and cites SAI’s recently- published book on the Kumbh Mela. “It is the same Ganges on whose sandbanks the usually inept Uttar Pradesh government built a fully […]

Asia Society: Lessons from the Kumbh Mela

At the Asia Society in New York on November 6, faculty leaders discussed how the Kumbh Mela is an opportunity to learn about megacities, possibly illuminating solutions to natural disasters that require temporary housing.

Asia Society: The ‘Sheer Spectacle’ of Kumbh Mela

"They had six weeks to get a city up and running with infrastructure, water supply, and electricity. That was an amazing surprise. But equally surprising was how quickly they dismantled it," says Rahul Mehrotra, Graduate School of Design, one of the faculty members who will speak about the project at the Asia Society on Nov. 6

Faith in a Smart City

"India is no stranger to confusion and that is why the much-talked-of jugaad, muddling through or miraculously rescuing a situation at the last moment is so common. But the Kumbh Mela, according to the Harvard team, was a carefully planned and efficiently executed operation."

Kumbh Mela book launch in Delhi

On Monday, August 17, SAI launched the Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book and exhibition in Delhi, India. Shri Akhilesh Yadav, Honorable Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, was on hand to launch the book with Harvard faculty, to a crowd of over 250 people.

Using cell phones to change society

The potential of mobile technology to change society was examined in an Exploratory Seminar titled ‘Using Cellphones to Change Societies’ hosted by SAI and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on September 4 and 5, 2014.

Radcliffe Workshop:Mapping the Ephemeral City

The spirit of collaboration and community that made this year’s Kumbh Mela festival so successful was on vivid display at the Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral City workshop August 29 and 30, 2013 at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study