Planning a pop-up megacity at the Kumbh Mela


Kumbh mela_small business poolThe word Kumbh means a pitcher and Mela means fair in Hindi. The Kumbh mela is the biggest mass held in the Hindu religion where pilgrims gather to bathe in a sacred river. It is the world’s largest religious gathering and there is practically no scientific or statistical method of predicting the number of pilgrims that might turn up for the congregation. This year, approximately 80 million people attended the Kumbh Mela held on 14 February 2013 in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India.

According to a recent study by the Havard Business School, The Kumbh Mela is a boon for the Indian Business Sector. Airlines, Hotels, Tour Operators and State are likely to witness substantial boom period in their economic activities and likely to contribute Rs.12,000 crore (USD 258 million) revenues in the state coffers, according to The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM).

John Macomber, a senior lecturer in the Finance unit at Harvard Business School, recently attended the Kumbh Mela with a group of Harvard colleagues. They discovered that the sight of the Mela is a massive 1,900 hectares (4,700 acres or more than 8 square miles) and it’s all built out with roads, bridges, electric power, tiny tents, midsize tents, and impressive multi-story temples.

Over 11,000 shops are catering to the mundane needs of those taking part in the congregation. These include shops selling spices and sandalwood from the south, herbs from mountain region and musk and curios from various parts of the country.

For hundreds of years, the size of the Kumbh has been of interest primarily to bathing pilgrims and local officials trying to maintain order. But this year it caught the attention of Harvard University, which saw the Kumbh Mela as a unique opportunity to study the formation and inner-workings of a pop-up mega city.

According to the researchers, 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, where there is ample opportunity to learn the ways in which a pop-mega city can be planned, constructed and maintained.

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