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On Monday, August 17, the Harvard South Asia Institute 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 at the Oberoi Hotel.

Over fifty Harvard professors, students, administrative staff, and medical practitioners made the pilgrimage to Allahabad, India, to the Kumbh Mela site in 2013, to analyze issues that emerge in any large-scale human gathering. The Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book consolidates research findings and serves as an example of interdisciplinary research conducted at Harvard.

Meena Hewett, Executive Director, SAI, gave the introductory remarks, stating the book has produced a set of teaching tools, useful across the disciplines of public health, data science, architecture, urban planning, business, religion and culture. This was followed by a welcome address by Mr. Vikram Gandhi, a member of the SAI Advisory Council and the managing director and global head of the Financial Institutions Group at Credit Suisse.

Following the introduction was a panel discussion featuring Jyoti Malhrotra, Sr. Reporter, India Today, Professor Rahul Mehrotra from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Mr. Javed Usmani, Chief Information Commissioner of Uttar Pradesh, and Dr. Satchit Balsari, Attending Physician, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Emergency Department, Assistant Professor Weill Cornell Medical College and Fellow, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Harvard FXB Center.

Kumbh Mela launch, Delhi

Rahul Mehrotra, right, shows the exhibit to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, center

Professor Mehrotra explained the methodology of the project, which examined religion, urbanism, business, technology, health, governance, and engineering. The Harvard team working at the Kumbh Mela geographically mapped and extensively covered the emergence of the city that is three times as densely populated as Manhattan and 2/3 times its size. The entire city, made of only using canvas, bamboo, screws, rope and corrugated metal is constructed on the land that emerges where the rivers Ganga and Yamuna meet. He further explained that the success of the city lies in the excellent system of accountability and that the purpose of the visit is singular, limiting friction and keeping expectations minimal.

Mr. Javed Usmani, the Chief Secretary during the 2013 Kumbh Mela, gave a brief summary of the efforts and logistical expertise that was required to create the event, which was the largest congregation of humanity in one place in the world. Bringing over 7 to 8 crore people in one space, the temporary infrastructure of the ephemeral city was constructed in less than 3 months and was designed as a grid and super imposed in the context of a shifting site.

Dr. Satchit Balsari talked about monitoring public health during the Kumbh as there was the constant threat of epidemics, water borne diseases, and infection. The team from Harvard was able to do real time disease surveillance using local capacity and simple technology by examining medical records from doctors in the area and digitizing the data on I-pads.

The event concluded with remarks from the Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who unveiled the book and answered questions from the audience.

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Media coverage of the event:

The audience included academics, government officials, students, alumni, and SAI community members

Maha Kumbh much better organized than Fifa World Cup, says Harvard book
Times of India
“The way a tent township — much larger than the size of Manhattan in terms of population – pops up in a very short time-frame is an example and a project for planners, urban bodies and policy researchers.“


The inspiring Kumbh lesson
Business Standard
“A few of us speaking after the inspiring presentation couldn’t help wondering why the experience of the Kumbh Mela in 2013 could not be carried over to government programmes such as Swachh Bharat. Even the pilgrims departing left behind just a few rectangles of woven rattan matting and not the garbage one might have expected.”


Dr. Satchit Balsari

Harvard book chronicles Maha Kumbh success saga
Economic Times
“The book, right from its preamble, lists how the spade work on the mega event started, from laying the grid of the sprawling Mela premises, to the logistics and the massive sanitation, sewage disposal and mass vaccination campaigns that were taken care of by the government agencies.”


In book, Harvard chronicles success of Maha Kumbh
The Asian Age
“It appreciates the chief minister’s efforts to celebrate the mega event as a Green Kumbh by banning the use of plastic materials and other pollutants at the Sangam in Allahabad.”


Harvard pats Kumbh
The Telegraph
“’It was fascinating the way such a mega city popped up within months and then disappeared. We thought it would give us a unique opportunity to develop teaching tools in urban planning, disease surveillance and business risk management,’ said Meena Hewett, executive director of the Harvard South Asia Institute and a senior member of the team.”


Harvard, MIT touch to Kumbh planning
Times of India
The experience of the Harvard University teams during the Allahabad Kumbh in 2013 is proving handy for effective public health management in Nashik. The state government and health ministry were aware of the effective data of disease control gathered and used during the Allahabad Kumbh.




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