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Kumbh Mela: The Latest Architecture and News

Rahul Mahrotra Discusses the "Flawed" Notion of 'Smart Cities'

04:00 - 26 August, 2015
Rahul Mahrotra Discusses the "Flawed" Notion of 'Smart Cities', Rahul Mehrotra
Rahul Mehrotra

In an interview with The Indian Express, Rahul Mehrotra—conservationist, architect and author of Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral MEGACITY—talks to Shiny Varghese about his belief that the current notion of a 'smart city' is about "blanket replication, [which] will result in gated communities and flattening of the city, driven by infrastructure and investment." He argues that this approach "will create a form of exclusion."

Kumbh Mela: Designing the World's Largest Gathering Of People

09:30 - 28 April, 2015
Kumbh Mela: Designing the World's Largest Gathering Of People, Kumbh Mela, January 2013: Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City. A project by Harvard University. Published by Hatje Cantz. Image Courtesy of Felipe Vera
Kumbh Mela, January 2013: Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City. A project by Harvard University. Published by Hatje Cantz. Image Courtesy of Felipe Vera

As the location of the world's largest single-purpose gathering of people, the 2013 Kumbh Mela obviously required a significant organizational effort from those charged with planning it - but what is less obvious is exactly how this need to plan can be squared with the nature of the Kumbh Mela itself. Located in the floodplain of the river Ganges, most of the 23.5-square-kilometer area of the festival (commonly referred to as the nagri) remains underwater until a few months before the festival, and organization is at every stage challenged by the uncertainty and ephemerality of the festival itself. In this excerpt from the recently published book, "Kumbh Mela, January 2013: Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City," Rahul Mehrotra, Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard GSD, and Felipe Vera, Co-director of the Center for Ecology, Landscape and Urbanism at UAI DesignLab, explain how infrastructure and street grids are deployed in a way that not only enables the Kumbh Mela festival itself, but enhances its ephemeral and democratic spirit.

Deployment Process

Standing at the Kumbh Mela at night looking towards an endless functioning city where the temporary construction of the nagri is fused with the city of Allahabad, there are two things that one cannot avoid asking: 1) How was this enormous city planned in terms of scale and complexity? 2) How is the city actually constructed? One of the most interesting elements about the construction process of the city is that unlike more static and permanent cities—where the whole is comprised of the aggregations of smaller parts, constructed in different moments that are tied together by pre-existing and connecting urban infrastructure—the city of the Kumbh Mela is planned and built all at once, as a unitary effort.

Kumbh Mela: A Temporary (But Not Instant) City for 2 Million

09:30 - 21 April, 2015
Kumbh Mela: A Temporary (But Not Instant) City for 2 Million, Part of Acciavatti's diagram "Triveni Sangam: Celestial-Terrestrial Microcosm, 2006". Image © Anthony Acciavatti
Part of Acciavatti's diagram "Triveni Sangam: Celestial-Terrestrial Microcosm, 2006". Image © Anthony Acciavatti

Among the many complex interactions between humans and water in the Ganges river basin, perhaps none is more awe-inspiring than the religious festival of Kumbh Mela, which every twelve years hosts the largest single-purpose gathering of people on the planet, with an estimated 2 million temporary residents and 100 million total visitors in 2013. In the following excerpt from his book "Ganges Water Machine: Designing New India's Ancient River," Anthony Acciavatti recounts the history of this spectacular event, as well as the smaller annual Magh Mela - and explains why even though it is temporary, the huge tent settlement that supports these festivals is not the "instant city" it is often described as, but instead a microcosm of settlement patterns across the whole Ganges.

Dangling at the tip of the Ganga-Jamuna Doab, where the Lower Ganges Canal system terminates, the city of Allahabad overlooks the confluence of the Ganges and Jamuna rivers. While the Jamuna, to the south of the city, runs deep and narrow, the Ganges, to the north and east of the city, runs shallow and wide. Where these two rivers meet (and a third mythical river, the Saraswati), is known as the Triveni or Sangam, the most sacred site within Hinduism.

Every twelfth year, the sleepy university city of Allahabad is transformed into a colossal tent city populated by millions of pilgrims for the Kumbh Mela (literally Pitcher Celebration). And it all seems to happen so fast. After the deluge of the southwest monsoon (June-August), the waters of the Ganges and Jamuna slowly start to recede. A city grid is tattooed into the banks and shoals of the Ganges. Tents and temples pop up in October. Pontoon bridges stretch from one bank of the river to the other and pilgrims begin to arrive in January. Then come reporters and camera crews from all over the world, who come to document the life of what must at first appear to be the world’s largest Instant-Mega-City: a temporary tent city with the major infrastructure of a metropolis.