<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Evanescent Light : Kumbh Mela


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KUMBH MELA 2019
Allahbad



Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred or holy river. Traditionally, four fairs are widely recognized as the Kumbh Melas: we atended the fair held periodically at the confluence (Sangam) of the Ganges and the Yamuna and the invisible Sarasvati at Allahabad. The festival is the largest peaceful gathering in the world, and considered as the "world's largest congregation of religious pilgrims". There is no precise method of ascertaining the number of pilgrims, and the estimates of the number of pilgrims bathing on the most auspicious day may vary. An estimated 120 million people visited Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013 in Allahabad over a two-month period, including over 30 million on a single day. That number was likely exceeded on the most auspicious bathing day (Feb 4th) during our visit.

Our travels overland to Allhabad soon revealed the incredible mass of pilgrims gathering for this sacred event.  Roads and streets became choked with thousands of cars, busses and trucks full of devotees, all of whom had concentrated on this section of the Ganges for the ceremonial bathing scheduled during the upcoming days of the Kumbh. We arrived into our camp just in time for a late dinner and a good night’s rest before spending the next four days photographing the festive setting of the Kumbh Mela and its mass of attendees. Our luxury camp was situated about one hundred meters above the Ganges on a bluff overlooking the festival grounds. This would be our base as we set off to photograph each day.  At this proximity, we could hear the din of the festivalb elow from the comfort of our well-appointed tents. Each day at the Kumbh found us exploring the festival grounds among the millions of pilgrims who had come to this location on the shores of the Ganges to bathe and cleanse their souls in its holy waters. The ash covered Sadhu leaders—in charge of protecting the tenets of the Hindu religion—were of particular interest and made extraordinary photographic studies. The Ashrams of Sadhus were divided into camps of tents where the ash-covered leaders would meet, smoke and meditate as well as bless those who had traveled great distances to seek the blessings of these Hindu yogis. We made our way through the camps of Sadhus capturing candid moments as well as sitting down to choreographed portrait sessions, taking time to meet these charismatic souls and spend quality time photographing them in their surroundings.

 

 

A first day to explore the Kumbh and acclimate to the bedlam and air pollution.




 





 


Initiates (sisya) visiting their guru to determine their eligibility to become a sadhu.


"A person who wants to become sadhu must first seek a guru. There, he or she must perform 'guruseva' which means service. The guru decides whether the person is eligible to take sannyasa by observing the sisya (the person who wants to become a sadhu or sanyasi). If the person is eligible, guru upadesa (which means teachings) is done.The guru bestows upon the initiate a new name, as well as a mantra, (or sacred sound or phrase), which is generally known only to the sadhu and the guru and may be repeated by the initiate as part of meditative practice." [Wickipedia]

The light in the tent where a procession of initiates entered to meet their guru was very low, so I used the necessarily long shutter speed to capture motion blurs.


 

 

 

The most auspicious bathing day at the Kumbh Mela

"The Kumbh Mela comprises of many rituals, of which the bathing ritualis the by far the most significan. Millions of pilgrims take part in the Kumbh bathing ritual at the Triveni Sangam. Performing this sacred ceremony is in accordance with the belief that by submerging oneself in the holy waters, one is purged of all their sins, release themselves and their ancestors from the cycle of rebirth and ultimate attainment of Moksha.The planetary positions determine the most favorable day for bathing in the holy river." [Kumbh mela official website]

We woke well before dawn to descend to the mela and begin a long and sometimes fraught walk through teeming crowds to reach a boat that would take us to a prime bathing site at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and mystical Sarasvati rivers. Until the last it was uncertain whether we would reach the boat. Only impassioned wrangling by our local guide Harindra got us through several police barricades, and we reached the mooring site by the fort on the Yamuna river at first light.


Disappointingly, our boat was not permitted to take us to an offshore location where we would have a close view of the processions of sadhus entering the water to bathe. Instead, we moored alongside many other boats around floating bollards that defined a bathing area for regular pilgrims. From here we had only a distant view of the sadhus, obscured by numerous heads in the foreground and by haze from the polluted air.


I concentrated instead on photographing the nearby bathing pilgrims.



 

On our return to our camp we passed women wrapping colored thread around a sacred tree.

After regaining the tranquility of our campsite and a leisurely lunch, there was time for some portrait photography of sadhus at the nearby ashram


   

To round off a long and eventful day, we descended briefly into the Kumb mela in the evening.



   

 

Back to the Kumbh Mela after the frantic activity of the bathing day quieted.



created 03/17/2019

IanParker
1146 McGaugh Hall
University of California,
Irvine, CA 92697

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