KUMBH MELA Mapping the Ephemeral MEGACITY

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Editors: Rahul Mehrotra and Felipe Vera
Publisher: Niyogi Books
(Pp 450, ISBN 978-93-85285-07-3, Rs 1995)

Allahabad is an ancient city of India, considered holy because it is built on the confluence (Sangam) of the rivers Ganga, Jamuna and the mythical Saraswati. During the Kumbh Mela period, a tent city is organised by the government of India for more than a month, where millions of devotees live. Different Hindu religious organizations erect their camps during this period.

According to astrological calculations, the Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years and begins on Makar Sankranti, the day when the Sun and Moon enter Capricorn and Jupiter enters Aries. It is the largest religious celebration on earth and the biggest public gathering in the world. The resulting settlement is a virtual mega city. Kumbh Mela deploys its own roads, pontoon bridges as well as tents serving as residence and venues for spiritual meetings and social infrastructure. KUMBH MELA Mapping the Ephemeral MEGA CITY is a “first systematic study on the Mela as a city: a planned entity and covers issues of social inclusion, diversity and even democracy that emerges under the framework of a neutralising grid of roads that is the organising armature of the city.”

The study of the Kumbh Mela is the result of a comprehensive conducted by over fifty Harvard professors, students, administrative staff, doctors and researchers who visited the Kumbh Mela site and stayed there for various durations from couple of days to couple of months, documenting and capturing the scenes. The result is the authoritative study based on interaction with fabricators, construction workers and talking to Mela administrators. Harvard University South Asia Institute coordinated the multi-year research project.

KUMBH MELA Mapping the Ephemeral MEGA CITY by analysing the problems that surface in any large-scale human gathering, pilgrimage, or cultural event has produced a rich set of teaching tools, urban planning, business, religion and culture. Issues like setting up the mega city, public health and safety, population dynamics, physical infrastructure, governance and organisational structure have been studied and presented in detail.

Rahul Malhotra and Felipe Vera, editors of this monumental effort have studied and presented the extraordinary process of urbanisation of religious congregation of several million people that generates temporary settlement that aims to assemble a city in a matter of weeks. The temporary urbanisation in coordination with environmental dynamics consisting of planning, construction, assembly, operation and disassembly, and deconstruction is phenomenal.

The volume is based on comprehensive research finding and includes city maps, aerial images, and analytical drawings of this spectacular Ephemeral Mega City for the Kumbh Mela. Abundantly and brilliantly illustrated with remarkable photographs and sketches by Dinesh Mehta, supported by Dipti Mehta has made text of the book thought-provoking.

– GS Jolly

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