Photography and other experiences.

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The sense of Faith

Kumbh 2013

“Baba! What do you do? ” I asked the Naga Sadhu sitting quietly in his tent.

The Sadhu must have blinked a bit behind his unusually large red sunglasses and then said, ” Nothing. What is there to do?”

“I mean what is the job of a Sadhu?”

“We are here to protect Sanatan Dharma.”

“Tell me about Sanatan Dharma.”

“I don’t know anything about Sanatan Dharma. These are the questions appropriate for Mahamandaleshwars.”

Then he added a profound couplet to re-enforce his suggestion.

“Hamara kaam hai, Lund ghumana aur Rasgulla Khana.”

In English, the rough translation goes like this,

‘I Jiggle my dick, for the sweets I lick’

Kumbh 2013

The Jiggler

Conversation with the muscular Baba was a little more sensible.

Kumbh 2013

“Baba! What is progress?”

“There is nothing called progress. All of you caught in the trap of illusions call something a success or failure. Life is merely a series of experiences.”

“Then what is it we are working towards?”

“You are working to justify your beliefs ; we live life as it comes.”

“So there is no direction to life?”

“It depends on the purpose of your life.”

“And the purpose of life is?”

“To keep ones’ promises, not to harm anyone and respecting the creation of God.”

Then the sadhu took a drag from the little earthen pipe and handed it to a man wrapped in a white Toga. He appeared to be of foreign origin. There was another one, sitting next to him. Both were quite and statuesque. A closer look revealed some reactory response to the pungent smoke from the wood fire, which occasionally swung their way.

“What is your name?”

“Assaf”

“Where are you from?”

“From Israel.” He replied in a very heavy accent.

“How did you find him?” I pointed towards the Sadhu.

“We didn’t find him, he found us.”

For a few seconds I stared at him in disbelief. Assaf took the opportunity to smile at me in return. His teeth were yellow. His waxen demeanor prompted me ask,

“How do you spend your time?”

“Minute by minute.”

Humanity rolled in as waves, smashing repeatedly on the shores of the Sangam. For a few seconds of rendezvous with the holy water, people endured collisions and danger, then they were hustled with piercing whistles, sticks and shoves from the security. It was an upheaval akin to a loaded net full of sardines.

Kumbh 2013

They came out with little droplets of the sacred water clinging on their shivering skin. Which they proceeded to wipe quickly. Meanwhile the Naga sadhus busied themselves with an anointment of a powder which turned their bodies ashen. It also made them smell of a sweet soap.

Kumbh 2013

They were happy going to the river. They held hands, carried each other on shoulders, rode horses and beat drums in their procession. They danced with abandon and showed their wares to the photographers.

Kumbh 2013

They are proud of their lifestyle. Sometimes ironic, sometimes specious but they bring grand drama to the event.

Kumbh 2013

Quite a few looked comical and lost in the milieu.

Kumbh 2013

It seems that most are actors for the great spectacle . One can doubt them, but the truth is, without these exaggerated characters, the Kumbh will be a poorer place.

The river flows in those who come to her. And they unfold to each other in many ways.

Kumbh 2013

But such moments could be achieved outside the frenzy ;which was a little bit away from the main event of Mauni Amavasya.

Kumbh 2013

Faith in the power of holy water is staggering. There is no question in any one’s mind that she will not excoriate the accumulated sins from their soul.

The man from Gaya educated me on this issue.

“Why do you sin?”

He reached out for my jacket collar and felt it in his thumb and forefinger.

“Our clothes get dirty. Don’t they? The same way our souls become dirty over a period of time.”

“But why let it get dirty to begin with?” I asked stubbornly.

“I till fields. God knows how many innocent beings get killed by my plough. I walk on earth, even bare feet, there could be thousands of insects and small creatures crushed under.”

“And you believe the river will wash away these sins?”

“Yes!”

There was hardly an argument left in me after that.

Living in India exposes one to a large number of people, but what I witnessed on the 10th of February was unusual. The Kumbh gave what it promised; numbers. I think the best comparison would be with an overactive beehive. The buzz of people, their footsteps ,and the many loudspeakers discharging devotional songs, sermons, instructions and calling unusual names to the lost-and-found charged the atmosphere with an unimaginable amount of energy. I was swayed, and cruised in their torrent happily. Purpose and breath filled my sail from head to clew and tack. Bulging in enthusiasm from luff to leach, I raced with them  towards the purification of my soul. I loved them and thanked them for being there with me.

Their journey was long. Even in groups, they seemed lost .

Kumbh 2013

Some came to live their lives more profitably, placing hope in the number of hearts passing by.

Kumbh 2013

Many were there to take care of others. They did a good job of it.

Kumbh 2013

The vast gray sandy beach was full of color. Light was generous and there were many moments for a photographer to indulge.

Kumbh 2013

I don’t know which category of design, the sari belongs to. The closest would be kitsch. But the yellow and blue polka dots amidst the black space of yellow grass is too sophisticated for what is usually labeled crass.

Kumbh 2013

 I thought I saw only happy families at the Kumbh. I might be wrong. But whatever I saw, made me glad. They were in it together, whatever the hardship and shared the work which included cooking and taking care of children.Men participated in equal measure to keep the earth of their family intact and secure.

Kumbh 2013

They have come from Bengal. Their music has a haunting note, which quickly filled the space left by a hot afternoon sun. Most were spell bound. Devotional songs and dance is their source of livelihood.  They don’t ask, they receive, according to the impression their piety makes on others.

Kumbh 2013

The Nagas have quickly realized the importance of being naked. Often they demand ‘dakshina’ for a picture or two. This one looks like a hoodlum. Here he is giving me change for a hundred rupees. Whether you need clothes or not, you certainly do need money to survive.

Kumbh 2013

The Kumbh initially confused me. People who allegedly have retracted from the trappings of the world exhibited the greatest pomp and show, while the commoner went about his business in a quiet dignified manner. I cannot say that all the sadhus are charlatans. Who am I to comment on their life? I got some good tips and honest opinions on life from them. But some serious conversation with a Norwegian revealed what complete surrender to a line of thinking is.

“So why are you here?” I asked him. His deep blue eyes reflected a sense of nervousness at the audacity of my question.

“It is my spiritual quest.”

“Taking a bath at the Kumbh is your spiritual quest?”

“This is but a station in my journey.”

“What is your journey?”

“To achieve spiritual bliss and enlightenment.”

“Won’t that be boring?”

“Why would it be boring?”

“Anything which goes on and on is so boring.”

“Boredom is a state of mind. We are working to transcend the mind.”

“Why?”

“Because mind leads you astray and then you cannot connect to the eternal truth.”

“And what is this connection with the eternal truth?”

“It is when you realize the nature of the universe. Then you are in supreme bliss.”

Before I could ask him more of my silly questions, he was whisked away by his colleagues. As a parting shot, he advised me to visit his Guru Swamy Nityananda’s site. He said I’ll find answers to all my questions. I thought it to be an unimaginative advise.

Kumbh 2013

I recollect a few lines from Neil Young’s Ever- after,

The world is full of questions
Some are answered, some are not
The only faith you’re keeping’
Is the faith that you still got

The world is full of answers
Some are right,some are wrong
The one that I believe in
Is a wish in a song.

Adieu Kumbh, till we experience each other again in Nasik.

One response

  1. As always its great to see your comments and read your images. I also had visited the Kumbh this year, but certainly couldn’t express it the way you have. I always look forward to your posts

    February 27, 2013 at 10:30 pm

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