Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ah! Kumbh Mela Time

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Quite a number of photographers, some friends and acquaintances, are gearing up to join the millions of Hindu pilgrims who will travel to Allahabad at the end of January and February, and document this unique religious event. I'm also certain that a number of photographers will offer workshops there...some charging an arm and a leg, others not so much.

This brings back memories of my attendance of the Maha Kumbh Mela of 2001, which was in the estimate of many the "mother of all Kumbh Melas" as it occurs only every 144 years.

The Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years at Haridwar and Allahabad, the Purna (complete) Kumbh takes place every twelve years, at four places Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik. The Maha Kumbh Mela which comes after 12 'Purna Kumbh Melas', or 144 years, is held at Allahabad.

By the way, isn't it surprising that Allahabad, or city of Allah/God as it was named by Mughal emperor Akbar, is the city where the most Hindu of all religious pilgrimages is held? And that's because it's the site of where the Yamuna and Ganges meet, and it was the birthplace of the Vedas and the grand epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

What struck me the most while photographing in 2001 were two facts: the overwhelming number of people (from charlatans and con men, religious freaks, and the genuinely devout Hindu pilgrims), and the surprising organization and efficiency of the police and organizers. It is said that about 60 million people attended the 2001 Maha Kumbh Mela.

I also recall how photojournalists were too aggressive in covering the bathing ceremony of the Naga Sadhus, and some of them were severely beaten and hospitalized. This, of course, meant that the rest of us had to surreptitiously take pictures when the police ordered us not to shoot during a Naga Sadhu procession (see above photograph). I had a press pass at the time, and it allowed me to circumvent the long lines, but that was about it.

In expectation of seeing photo essays on the event, here's the BBC's photographs of pilgrims already arriving in Allahabad.

The auspicious bathing dates of the 2013 Kumbh Mela are here.