It is that time of the year again. Display of human faith in all mighty in its colorful and intriguing avataar. Kumbh Mela is a primarily Hindu pilgrimage which attracts pilgrims from all over the world at four locations in India viz : Haridwaar, Allahbaad, Ujjain and Nashik. What do all these places have in common ? a massive river flowing through which washes away all the pilgrim’s sin and infuses him or her with vitality and good luck. These rivers are : Haridwar – the Ganga, Allahbaad – confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati (mythical), Nashik – the Godavari and Ujjain – Shipra river. The mela happens every third year at one of these locations for about a month and a half because one upon a time when the sea was churned and Gods vs Asuras were fighting for nectar, a few drops from the vessel (Kumbh/ Kalsash) fell on these places in those rivers, which then became holy rivers.
What baffles me and most of the non – pilgrims visiting the mela is the magnanimous scale of the event. Population of Australia is 2.3 crores. The number people visiting Kumbh mela is 10 crores !. Approximately 3 crore pilgrims took the holy dip on the same day on Mauni Amavasya at Allahabaad in 2013. Kumbh is the larges peaceful gathering of humanity on earth. Has been going on from thousands of years. And has zero contribution by modern day means of communication like social media, telecom etc. I come to know about Kumbh via internet. But how do most of the pilgrims know when is kumbh ? as majority of the pilgrims can hardly read !
The Nashik kumbh is called Sinhasta kumbh mela.As per the Vedas the Sun is considered as a soul like or life giving. The moon is considered as a lord of Mind. The planet Jupiter or Brihaspati is consider as Guru of Gods. As it takes almost 12 years for Jupiter to transverse to complete zodiac , so the Kumbh is celebrated in accordance at one place after about every twelve years.When the Jupiter enters in Leo or Simha (zodiac sign) and the Sun and Moon in Cancer, the Kumbha is held at Nashik and Trimbakeshwar.
Visiting kumbh as a photographer/traveler can be an experience of a life time and also exhausting as hell. This is not a leisurely vacation in the hills or the beaches where one relaxes and unwinds. This is a crash course in austerity, culture, tradition, rituals, food and chaos management. Here’s what to expect when visiting kumbh mela.
- Chaos. Though most kumbhs are expertly manged by government bodies, as a urban dweller its inevitable to get irritated by constant sounds and lights and action around you. Take frequent breaks, keep you camera aside, have something to drink, close your eyes and take a nap. Remember as a traveler your intention for coming here is way different from the pilgrim. While you have come to observe, and take pictures; a pilgrim by all means would spoil your frame in its hurry to get the best spot for bathing, or catching 1/125th secs of fame in one of your pictures. Don’t sweat, the pilgrims have the first right to the kumbh.
- Police barricading. Its no child’s play managing crowds equivalent to sum total of a few countries gathered at the bank of a river over a short span of time. And if you’re looking out for some cool sadhu pictures, especially of the Shahi Snan days, the good luck without a police issued entry pass to the best spots. I realized that retrospectively and had to make do with whatever I could get to click.
- Bad food. No journey is complete till the local flavors melt over your tongue and leave an indelible memory. But not here. There are way too many poor people to be served. Food stalls don’t shy at all from cutting corners over food quality and hygiene. Stick to packaged food and water, or if at all, steaming hot cooked food right off the burner.
- Accommodation. Not to mention it is next to impossible getting a nearby place to stay. Shahi Snan start around 3 am. If at all you have to travel to the main area ditch your own vehicle and take public transport till where ever possible. Then tighten you shoe strings buddy, its going to be a long day on foot.
- Sadhus asking for tips. Like you and me a whole lot of people travel from far and wide to get their perfect kumbh pictures. Not to mention even the austere most can’t resist a few seconds of celeb moments in fron of the lens. And all that chillum smoke doesen’t come for free. Besides anyone would get tired of posing throughout the day for weeks at stretch, especially if you take you deckup like Lady Gaga of Sadhus. So be prepared woth lots of loose money, and enjoy the interaction.
- Bad weather. Sounds obvious that one should be prepared for rains but short shortsightedness prevails at times and you tend to leave the umbrella or the camera rain cover in the cozy environs of yours room, rather than carrying it around to avoid luggage. I lost a lot of probable good pictures because of torrential rains and not being prepared for it.
- GoPro cam. Kumbh mela and such gatherings are an excellent opportunity, other than adventure sports and biking to explore varied shooting angles, especially if you’re carrying a waterproof camera like GoPro. Take note that flying a drone may get you in trouble with the police.
- Bathing water. The bathing waters are rather safe and chances of drowning are pretty slim, unless you’ve really annoyed the Gods :-p But the waters are infested with all sorts of microbes is neither surprise nor secret. It’s a topic of worldwide research in fact. So make sure you take a quick dip and gulp as little as possible.
- Wear mellowed down clothes. The last thing you want is attract unwanted attention. It’s a huge religious gathering and any sort of inappropriate dressing or behavior is generally not tolerated. So wear comfortable, stick to ethnic and enjoy the show.
Some more pictures, since I have run out of commentary and suggestions..!
Kumbh Mela and other such festivals, especially in a rich cultural and diverse country like India are a photographer’s paradise. More so if you love shooting on the streets, interacting with folks and click portraits.
Thanks for dropping by..!
Following is a timelapse video compilation from the Kumbh Mela
Have fun, Comments and critique invited.