I am passionate about photography, especially ritual and religious gatherings, and India is a country which has such a variety in cultures, landmarks, and nature, and it is a place where the main essence comes out from the religions and their practices that makes it unique among other countries. When Miss Anne showed me the photos of her journey and asked me to post them on my blog, I immediately agreed because i think India is very different from western countries that it is almost impossible to compare. It is a place where you face the culture clash, so i thought it is important for anyone who hasn’t been yet curious to know more about India to think of it as his next destination.
My name is Anne-Françoise DUBOIS, I am from Belgium.Being Belgian and Catholic in itself does not matter, but when we immerse ourselves in another culture such as Indian culture, and live the Kumbh Mela among the Hindus, it has.
I have always been fascinated by India, so colorful, so populous, so active, so lively, so religious… and so different from my western world. Many people who had visited India advised me to go there, If I have the opportunity.
Finally, on August 2018, I received a strange invitation from my friend Anjan Ghosh, who is a photographer in Calcutta, India, to attend the largest religious festival in the world (Kumbh Mela).
This was a matchless opportunity to take unforgettable shots, live among Hindus, understand their traditions, and participate in their pilgrimage. It was a lifetime opportunity, and an authentic journey.
On January 2019, we arrived in the city of Dehli, and after a night on the train we arrived in Allahabad where the largest religious festival in the world was held.
The Kumbh Mela is largest peaceful gathering of pilgrims in the world. It is organized every four years. It takes place in four holy cities Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik, respectively.Ascetics, holy men, Sadhus and visitors, millions of people go there, regardless of their caste, beliefs or gender come to bathe and immerse themselves in a sacred river.They pray to wash away their sins and hope to ensure the salvation of their loved ones.
This festival is named because the Hindus come here not only to pray and purify themselves in the sacred river, but to meet, discuss, and eternize the ancestral tradition of this great gathering as well.
But what is the origin of this fabulous pilgrimage? There are several versions of the origin of this large gathering, a legend mention that there was a chase between demons and demi-gods for twelve days and twelve nights. During this a few drops of elixir of immortality fell from a jar to the Earth, in four places, and would have made the water of this river divine and sacred. Since then, it is thought that these four places have acquired mystical powers and the pilgrimage takes place there every four years in each turn city because twelve days of gods equals twelve years for humans. Kumbh Mela is celebrated once every twelve years in each of the four places.
The transmission of knowledge and know-how related to this tradition is ensured by the ancient religious manuscripts, the oral traditions, the stories of the travelers and texts written by leading historians. However, the student-teacher relationship of Sadhus in Ashrams and Akhadas remains the most important mode of transmission.
I lived among the Hindus for four days, we were walking from one side to another of this huge camp. Allahabad is a large area of sand, but every four years, it is transformed into a gigantic ephemeral city of 32,000 hectares at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna to accommodate between 120 and 140 million pilgrims. Twenty floating bridges are built to cross the Ganges. Camps with sanitary facilities and running water are installed, Street vendors offer fruits, vegetables, flowers and offerings. Nothing is missing, were really felt comfortable there. Sadhus, Saints, pilgrims and visitors are gradually settling in and for those who arrive a little late, he stays on the roadside to set up the tents.
Anytime we visited all these Sadhus, Saints and pilgrims.They welcomed us with great kindness, a lot of hospitality, and always with a cup of black tea, we had a good time to discuss. Sadhus have pronounced sacred words to assure me salvation after having made ritual paintings on my forehead.
Simple and unforgettable moments in an extraordinary universe! The must interesting was the night of the bath of the Saints.
We left the camp to go near the tanks on which the representatives of the deities would sit. From a very specific place the tanks had to start towards the river to inaugurate the opening of the baths.It was very cold but the hours quickly passed because the city is full of life day and night.
In some places, people dance, talk, drink tea and then at night, there was a particular activity. Sadhus, Saints and pilgrims were preparing to be part of the procession. Each representative of the deities would sit on a chariot, and I was lucky to be able to sit with some friends too.
At four o’clock in the morning, the chariots begin to march, the sound of the music rises, the pilgrims walk on the decks following the chariots towards the river.
We talked with Sadhus and Saints even in the middle of the night in their tent. I have been blessed dozens of times and a saint even offered me his hospitality under his tent to be less cold and the tea was good.
it was unique and unforgettable moments with extraordinary people .My journey had an end, but it’s memories are immortal.