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Harvard University Leverages Big Data for Case Study on Kumbh Mela 2013


Harvard University is conducting a study of the Kumbh Mela 2012-13 as an interdisciplinary work involving design, infrastructure, urbanism, business of Kumbh Mela, public health etc. The study is focused on understanding how the temporary ‘mega pop-city’ is built and deconstructed within weeks before and after the Kumbh Mela.

Kumbh Mela 2012-13

The Kumbh Mela is a holy Hindu gathering that is held every 12 years in the city of Allahabad with millions of pilgrims visiting the city to take a holy dip at the confluence of the rivers – Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati. As the largest gathering in the world, the Kumbh Mela is expected to draw about 70million pilgrims this year. The government of Uttar Pradesh has installed 35,000 toilets along with 550kms of water pipes and also built 155kms of temporary roads to build the temporary mega city for the Kumbh Mela.

Data Chart of Diseases at the Kumbh Mela

The Harvard case study that is being conducted by leveraging big data has released a data chart showing the distribution of various diseases at the mela. The purpose of this study on public health at the Kumbh Mela is to gather the largest transient public health data in the world.  The study is aiming to develop a new metrics for detecting epidemics within a fluctuating population and applying it to other parts of the world during situations of natural calamities or war. During the course of this study, they are hoping to digitize and analyse the patient data collected from 5 hospitals in the most densely populated sectors of the Kumbh Mela. So far, they have recorded the data of over 16,000 patients within two weeks.

Work under Other Disciplines

The team on religion and humanities is working on studying different religious groups at the mela, the significance of different rituals, the environmental effects of the mela etc. The team working on urbanism at the Kumbh Mela aims to map the mela and understand two important aspects – the physical structure of the city with its settlements and the fleeting events that make the festival. The team studying the business aspects of Kumbh Mela is working to understand how large scale infrastructures can be constructed in a short period of time along with the public policy and governance required for its implementation. Apart from primary data collection, this team will also be using proprietary mobile usage as dataset to also understand the econometrics of the mela. The usage of mobile phones in this year’s festival has made the chaotic festival more accessible and connected. Apps like Kumbh Mela 2013 Festival Guide (free android app) and Kumbh Mela 2013 Festival Guide paid app etc have also been launched this year to guide travelling pilgrims.

Possible Outcomes of the Harvard Case Study

Apart from using the findings of this study as lessons for planning the next Kumbh Mela, the findings will also be used to design systems for disaster management, the required medical responses, designing of temporary settlements like refugee camps and provision of healthcare facilities for them. This case study could be extremely useful in planning Kumbh Mela in the future considering the stampede there this year that has so far taken the lives of 36 people.