The Kumbh Mela Experiment

Measuring and understanding the dynamics of mankind’s largest crowd
Image: EPA

Kumbh Mela is the largest religious festival in the world, and involves the pilgrimage of about 100 million Hindus to a sacred river. The next festival will take place in Ujjain in 2016. Unfortunately, many of the previous versions of this event have been marred by accidents and deaths. Human crowds are complex adaptive systems and so predicting their behavior is challenging. However, the combination of computational modeling and data does offer ways in which crowds can be managed.

Together with partners from various Universities in the Netherlands and India sophisticated methods and algorithms will be developed to aid planners and event managers in managing extremely large crowds. The project aims to deliver the core components of an entire crowd management solution, all the way from designing and building personnel devices for tracking movement (or more precisely human-to-human interaction) to developing advanced computational models to help predict how the crowd may evolve.

This leads to a vision of a living simulation where various data sources (personal devices, video cameras, smart phones, monitoring drones) can be fused into models and executed on an advanced compute infrastructure capable of providing both a priori planning, as well as real-time reactive decision-making. This proposal addresses three key research areas related to the understanding and management of huge human crowds: Data Collection (UAVs, wireless bracelets etc.); Data Analysis (Real-time); Modelling and Prediction. The research will be coordinated to coincide with the upcoming Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, April-May 2016 and will present a once in a lifetime opportunity to do extremely exciting new science.


  • Peter Sloot
    University of Amsterdam