Tag Archives: Maha Kumbh

Karma and Kumbh

The month of March has been frenetic and feverish – and that is an understatement. Other than the consulting assignment, which I have been working on, it has also been a sort of geeky month. My website had some glitches on the server, then my iPhone acted up and finally, my laptop decided it was time to breathe its last. Add to that a switch to Apple after using Windows for about 20 years, and you can imagine how it has been. Fascinating!

And this meant that even writing a post got put on the backburner. Anyway, here I am again…with thoughts of the Maha Kumbh that I went to in February.

Held this year at Allahabad, at the confluence of the three most holy rivers in India: the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mythological Saraswati, the Kumbh lures the faithful for a dip in the holy waters that relieves them of lifetimes of karma. Hindu religious scriptures say that bathing on the astrologically favorable days snuffs out innumerable sins, relieving the pilgrim of his or her entanglement in the complex cycle of birth, disease, old age, and death – the cycle of samsara. Kumbh is actually a Sanskrit word meaning “pot”, “pitcher” or “jar” and mela means “festival.” According to Indian mythology, the Kumbh Mela derives its name from the pot of the immortalizing nectar from the waters of the holy river Ganga.

It has had an appeal or an allure for saints and scholars for many millennia. In about 302 B.C., the great Greek historian Megasthenes documented his seventy-five-day stay at Prayaga (Allahabad), during a mela which had an attendance of two and a half million. Some hundreds of years later, in the 7th century A.D., the devout emperor Harsha invited the distinguished Chinese mendicant Hsian Tsang to attend the festivities of the mela. Later when writing his journals, Tsang noted Harsha’s consummate spiritual leadership with lavish praise and wrote: “The festival concluded with Harsha distributing all of his accumulated wealth to the needy, down to his robes, and returning to his palace in clothes borrowed from his sister.”

The Kumbh is a melting pot for perhaps more than eight thousand religious groups and sects that debate and discuss philosophy. For the mela, it is said that this is a symbol of Hindu unity, an instrument for passing on spiritual teachings and values of India’s ancient Vedic culture to the masses of devotees.

Here saints and sinners, mystics and beggars, all gather on the banks of the holy Ganga in the smorgasbord of by far the largest human congregation on Earth, albeit temporary. Pilgrims travel from far across many miles to bathe in the Ganga; they are dressed in their finest and most colorful – it is a celebration of hope, and festivity for a better tomorrow.

The numbers tell the story – this year there were a total of 100 million people who attended the Kumbh; on the days these photographs were made, I was just one of 30 million people there.

At the Kumbh, there is a veritable sea of swaying bodies and heads, which moves slowly towards the confluence of the three rivers – a deluge of pilgrims. The intonation of invocations, cacophony of flutes, bells, cymbals, horns, and the constant blaring of devotional songs over innumerable loudspeakers are a constant accompaniment to reverence. There are the aged who cannot walk without support, there are mothers being carried literally by their sons, there are sons being carried by their mothers. All in the name of faith. And hope.

Yes. Faith. And hope. That about sums it all up: for karma, and Kumbh.

And for life.

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C’est la vie

Many of you have written to me wondering where I am (or was) across the last month or thereabouts; to most I have replied, but for those who wrote in the past few days.  I’ve been out for four weeks and more – much of it on work, but some for photography. I’d headed to Jaipur, followed by Lucknow and then Benares as I prefer to call the city (or Varanasi, as it is contemporarily known). After this this was the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad, then Jodhpur and finally Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.

I’ll write about each of those places by and by, but for now I just thought I’d write a few lines on how I feel at this moment as I type. Not so good really – in fact, dejected. I’ve been going through my photographs of the Kumbh Mela and I have managed to mess up quite a few. Not because I couldn’t be in the right place at the right time (the “decisive moment” in other words, was right there in front of me) but because I completely messed up my camera settings, and yes, I messed those up on both days at the Kumbh.

It has never happened to me before this. This time was different. I was distracted.  I wasn’t quite there. I didn’t enter the zone. I forgot to see my camera settings before starting to photograph. I can’t believe I did this. And guess what – no one will be able to figure that out from the photographs I post here now. But I am writing this. Why? Because my blog for me is my confession, my diary – a place where I am completely honest, naked in thought and expression. Because this post will remind me that along with these photographs, there are many more which I should have got, but didn’t.  Because these words will tell me that I don’t photograph for anyone else but for myself. And only I know the truth as it exists, as it really is, and not how it appears to be.

And it gets even better – I don’t wear my glasses when photographing. I don’t see my images on the camera (I might later at some point of time, but it is much after the point of no return when I have walked away from the scene), I don’t look at the histogram; most times I don’t even see the settings in the viewfinder. My entire focus is on what is within that frame. I am actually lost in another world. I set the aperture and approximate shutter speed, which I then change while paying attention to the sound of the shutter (but this time at Kumbh the ambient noise far overwhelmed the sound of the shutter). Yes, I know it is a strange way to photograph. I know that. But I photograph with instinct. I photograph from my heart and my soul. The camera ceases to exist when I photograph. I mean that.

So now at this point of time, I want nothing to do with either my camera or photography, but here I am writing this blog, again from my heart. I am not perfect, and I admit it openly. Even to those who believe that I know how to photograph, here is my confession – I don’t. Not at this moment anyway.

But yet I know, I’ll be at it again. I’ll again not see the photograph on the camera or the histogram for that matter; I’ll again use the sound of the shutter as a guide. Yes, I’ll do it all over again because that is the only way I know how to photograph – with instinct and my heart and soul. With love.

You see, it is love, when you return even as it pains and hurts.

C’est la vie.

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