The legacy of the world’s largest temporary city on local permanent urbanism. A spatial study of the Kumbh Mela 2013.
[THIS IS A RAW UNEDITTED ACCOUNT OF IDEAS, DISCOVERIES & DISCUSSION GATHERED FROM THE INDIAN KUMBH MELA 2013, IT IS CONSTANTLY UPDATING]
Every 12 years in a small town in the heart of India, a gargantuan event takes place. It's an event almost utterly comprehensible to the human mind. A vast gathering of 70 million pilgrims from all corners of the globe travel to a single spot in which to gather; to share and to live together for a lunar month.
You may need some help to try and comprehend that figure. You have probably heard that Glastonbury has 175,000 people in one spot packed tightly around a stage. Hold that image in your head, now multiple that by 40 and you have the population of Greater London (7 million). Now still desperately trying to keep that vivid image of all those tiny little people gathered en masse, multiply it by a further 10 times until you reach the grand total of 70 million people coexisting in a space for 28 days. That's a city the size of the entire of the United Kingdom.
This large ensemble of people living together presents a rare opportunity to explore how humans naturally wish to arrange themselves en masse with little intervention from a greater planning authority. The communities and family units that immerge from the chaos lay themselves out with no need to be constrained by the historical precedent of a town street. Perhaps streets that were narrow and not designed for cars; houses arranged before modern transport connections appeared; communities that were laid out when people communicated and lived very different lives in the past. All these restraints are gone, completely removed. The only hint is perhaps the old living habits and patterns engraved in the minds of the pilgrims and participants. A contemporary spatial pattern will emerge that will clearly indicate the way we wish to live today.
The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad is taking place this month and archiendo is taking you there to explore the three dimensional treatment of space and the natural formation of temporary communities. Through interviews, studies of daily living patterns, detailed measurements and vast maps of the overall "city" the Kumbh Mela may be used in future as the ultimate precedent for all scales of permanent city masterplans that are designed for the modern human.
The participants at the Mela are first provided with a huge piece of land on the sandy monsoonal flood plains of the River Ganges. This epic space is then subdivided into a grid of major roads (measuring x by x). Within these grids various ashrams and religious temples are permitted to setup places of worship, food kitchens, accommodation and amenities for their followers. These temple complexes become the "districts and boroughs" of the city. These main focal nodes have constant streams of people flowing to and from one another as the pilgrims come to visit the religious sects that they most strongly feel affiliated with. Some of these temples (like the ISKCON, known to many as the Hare Krishnas ) have millions of followers worldwide, whereas others (like the Yoga Niketan Trust) have only a few thousand. So of course some districts are larger and wealthier while others are poorer and less connected. Similar to any global city each borough has different values and cultural similarites and attracts different types of people.
Around these main focal points of the "boroughs and districts" villages, large families and clubs arrive in groups and set up their own individual home. These homes essentially function like any city street or cul-de-sac, but with a more communal and togetherness being at the heart of the spatial design.
A fundamental difference between these "communes" and city street communities is the relationships that the indivual parts of the group have with one another. While in a city people on a street maybe wary of each other and not trust their neighbours. It is possible this is because of genuine dislike and character clashes or a lack of time spent familiarising themselves with one another. Within the Kumbh Mela communes, the members of each group of individual are familiar and have a degree of trust with one another. Without this fundamental trait is very likely the positive attitude of the entire festival would exist.
Once these strong communes appear, people appear to be more comfortable and confident while speaking to other neighbouring groups.