108 Faces of Saints & Holy Men, Maha Kumbh Mela

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In February 2013, I was very lucky to get the opportunity to go to the once every 12 year Maha Kumbha Mela in Allahabad (Prayag), India. It was a wild journey to the largest spiritual gathering in the world where saints and sadhus, pilgrims (and scammers), tourists and everyone else under the sun congregate for a period of six weeks. I was fortunate to stay with the Uttar Kashi Purusha at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram on the more quiet side of the river. Below are 108 pictures I took over a 10 day period.

Click any photo to ENLARGE.
Millions At the Kumbha Mela
At 5am on the 10th of February I was on my way from our Ashram to the Sangam (confluence of the 3 holy rivers – Ganga, Yamuna & Saraswati). I was with one friend, a Purusha from the Himalayas, and before long we were swept into the throngs of people descending on the banks of the Ganges for their auspicious dip. I felt like a red blood cell flowing in the body of Earth (or universe) while at the same time if felt as if this was all happening within my body making my mind trip out big time! This reminds me of the quote: “(The Self is) smaller than the smallest, bigger than the biggest.” – Katha Upanishad 1.2.20.


Above is a 1 minute video of what it was like on the Ganges river bank at 5am.

Orange Shawl - Kumbha Mela, India
Everyone from babies to Grandmothers attended the event. The wide array of sights and colors was absolute eye candy if I ever did see.

Reading the Vedas - Kumbha Mela, India
This man is reciting the Vedas on the banks of Ganga.

Sadhu in India
I quickly became a “Sadhu Sniper” with my long telephoto lens :). I definitely have a fascination with them and am impressed that they can renounce the world for this monastic, traveling lifestyle in search of enlightenment.

Indian Women at the Kumbha Mela
Women often walk in groups and are adorned in the most beautiful saris.

Bathing in the Ganges, Allahabad, Kumbha Mela
The water was a wee bit chilly but by mid morning the sun warmed us quickly.

Nathaniel Alexander, Phillip Rabalais - Kumbh Mela
I was happy to meet up with Nathaniel Alexander and Phil Rabalais who were also staying at the Maharishi Ashram. We went out photographing many times and ended up on some wild adventures :).

Indian Woman carrying bag on head
The ability of the women to carry heavy bags on their heads never ceases to amaze me. Their necks must be sooo strong!

Two Indian Boys at the 2013 Kumbh Mela
These two boys went to the local Maharishi school in Naini and were proud to have their pictures taken by us students from Maharsihi University in the US.

Carrying Ganges water on the head
This lady is expertly balancing a gallon of Ganges water on her head – striking!

Indian man with orange turban
Colors galore making the Western world so boring in comparison.

Two Indian men smiling
Friendly strangers and myself being photographed again by the man in the back. I was quite the spectacle for the Indians and must have ended up on more than 100 phone cameras and possibly even printed up and framed on some living room walls!

Group of holy men India
All different saints from all different religious and spiritual groups were gathered at the Kumbh Mela.

Two Indian Grandmothers serene
These two Grandmothers posed for me without asking. I love the serene look in their wisdom filled eyes.

Asher Fergusson with Vedic Pandit - Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
We found one of the Maharishi tents and of course there were Vedic Pandits who knew me by first name! In 2007 I went on a few trips to Chicago to greet the Maharishi Pandits and to welcome them to their new home in Fairfield. The one on my left remembered me from those times.

Sadhu in the Maharishi Tent
Sadhus in the Maharishi tent.

Crowds of people at the Maha Kumbh Mela
On the 10th of February the streams of people descending on the Ganges was truly a once in a lifetime event that is difficult to describe in words.

Nathaniel Alexander with Indian security guard
Nathaniel stands proud with the Ashram security guard.

Boy with a steel colored eye
This inquisitive boy caught my attention.

Happy Indians at the Kumbha Mela
The whole event was very blissful and felt like a cosmic celebration. Happy smiling faces were seen everywhere through the Mela grounds.

Sadhus in India
Orange was one of the predominant colors.

So many people at the Kumbha Mela India
It was definitely the most people I had ever seen. The estimates were 35 million in a 5 mile radius on the 10th of February.

Sadhus of all ages
The Sadhus of all ages were seen wondering the streets of the Mela.

Indian Santa Claus
Hey it’s Santa!

Indian ladies carrying bags on their heads
Indian ladies are so graceful with their beautiful saris perfectly folded while balancing a heavy bag on their head.

Indian man with child
It’s all about the EYES.

Indian ladies with earthen pots on head
These ladies were in a procession of a religious group who had one truck laden with gigantic speakers dedicated to playing the loudest beats I had ever heard. 😀

Indian family
My sunglasses (worn by the boy in this pic) are always a novelty item because Indians don’t seem to need them. My blue eyes get scorched by the glare and so I am always wearing them.

Cute little Indian girl
Cutest little girl EVARRR!

Indian family at chai stand
This boy on the left is named Raul. He is a priest at the local Someshwar (Shiva) Temple which is mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita and was installed by the Pandavas over 5,000 years ago.

Pink sari on Indian lady
Pinkest sari I have seen.

Indian men on motor bikes
Happy motor bikers.

Allahabad streets
Streets in the city of Allahabad.

Fairfield, Iowa people in India Kumbha Mela
The day after the main bathing day we went into town and of course ran into a whole crew of people from Fairfield including Bob Markowitz – the man!

Gandhi Khadi
Gandhi started a whole movement of local, hand-woven cloth stores (known as Gandhi Khadi) to strengthen India’s economy. They make the best cotton and so I always make a visit to have some new underwear tailored. They are super old fashioned with one person taking the order, another accepting payment and another checking that the order is correct and all records a put on little bits of paper which are then stacked in the corner.

Indian lady carrying 40 pounds on her head
Incredible. This lady is carrying around 40 pounds on her head with a perfectly folded sari and all while taking poised steps through the chaotic street.

indian family
A nice family who demanded their photo be taken.

asher fergusson india allahabad
On my way to the sangam with Nathaniel.

nathaniel alexander
Post dipping bliss.

indian lady and baby amazing eyes
Their eyes!

indian man
This man is a teacher of Transcendental Meditation and a friend of my friend Vivek Iyyer.

indian boy
Local store near the ashram. This boy is the younger brother of Raul (mentioned above).

beige suit kumbha mela
He was wearing a beige suit in the Mela grounds – brave!

group of saints and sadhus
Oh the COLORS!

cobra charmer india
Cobra charmers – another gimmick for money. I love snakes though!

Sadhu in India orange robes
I think this sadhu may have had too much turmeric for breakfast.

Purple turban India
Purple turban!

Dev Raha Hans Baba
Dev Raha Hans Baba – my favorite living saint who I met at the Kumbha Mela. He was able to make the sun viewable to the naked eye and the moon dance in the night sky.


Above is a short video of him singing us a song about Unity Consciousness.

kumbha mela scene india
One of my favorite pics from my 10 days in Allahabad.

pot smoking sadhu marijuana
A pot smoking “sadhu” who invited us to his shaded shack. I was grateful for the midday solace from the sun!

celestial light india kumbha mela
The light was celestial in the evening time.

indian group of men
This group requested their photo to be taken.

sadhu in india
More sadhu sniping.

amazing shawl in india
I love the folds in his shawl.

indian ladies kumbha mela allahabad
The ladies were often seen roaming gracefully in large groups stopping for some shopping and giggling like school girls with happy smiling faces.

kumbha mela tents
You can see the different tents and camps in the background. There must have been thousands of them and apparently the fancy high visibility tents had to pay US $1 million for the location!

face of kumbh mela
Two more faces.

roads at the kumbha mela
The roads were kept wet to try and keep the dust down.

sector 6 kumbha mela india
This was the Northern most tip of the Kumbha Mela known as sector 6. You can see an interactive map here.

indian boy face
That face.

face of sadhu in india
And that one.

friendly indians
Everyone was super friendly and most people wanted their picture taken.

vegetable market kumbha mela india
Veggie market. The logistics necessary to feed millions of pilgrims in a 5 mile radius must be insane. Only in India.

sadhu on moped
MOPED SADHU!

army official india kumbha mela
At almost every intersection there was an army official to help guide the traffic and deal with crowd control.

inquisitive indian boy
This boy was very inquisitive and really wanted his picture taken.

elegant indian lady
Elegance.

orange turban india
Orange turban.

singing songs at kumbha mela saint
This man was joyfully singing songs while he walked the streets of the Mela grounds.

young indian sadhu
Proud young sadhu.

indian barber shop
The Barber Shop.

indian kids
I love this pic – these kids were super cute!

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This photo for me captures the essence of the Kumbh Mela grounds.

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Another very happy holy man.

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This young man was with some Shiva devotee organization and insisted I ate a meal with them. I had to decline because I had only just eaten but I was very impressed by his hospitality.

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This lady gave me the pamphlet of her guru and wished I visit him. I didn’t have time and she kinda freaked me out so I took a pic 🙂

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These gentlemen demanded that their picture be taken. The sunset lighting makes for quite a glow on their faces.

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Looks like he may have been having a little too much chewing tobacco by the color of his eyes and teeth.

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Likewise for this sadhu.

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These boys were so sweet. They were staying at Dev Raha Baba’s camp and the boy on the left kept pointing the saint and saying that he is “god”.

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Anyone for some white bread? There were stalls dotted everywhere with all the supplies you may need while at the Kumbh Mela.

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Nathaniel a little dazed and anxious after we were pulled behind a bike rickshaw for a mile.

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Tomatoes anyone? Notice how polluted the air is filled with a fine dust.

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This guy was cruisin’ through on an unknown important mission.

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These guys are trying to wet the ground everywhere so as to reduce the dust. It definitely works but then things get muddy.

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I essentially have “camera trap” effect here with the use of flash and slow shutter speed.

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I do not know how the ladies balance sideways on the back of scooters and motorbikes?!

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Three tired travelers on the back of a bike rickshaw :D.

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Happy dude.

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Proud dad. Screaming child.

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Although this picture has similar lighting to the night time one above, it is actually the following morning at 5am. This was the next most auspicious day to bathe at the sangam – Vasant Panchami, the 15th of February 2013.

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If you compare this picture to the one at the very top of this post you can see that there were way less people on the 15th compared to the 10th of February which was the biggest bathing day of the entire event.

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An Australian friend, Peter Fenwick. The golden glow in the background is the lights at the sangam which were on a way to.

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Everyone over at the sangam taking their holy dip = bliss.

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Our pirate ship captain – aaarr!

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Erin Pillman and I at the inauguration of the Maharishi Samadhi Smarak in the afternoon of the 15th of February.

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An exquisite painting of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the center of the smarak.

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Within minutes of the inauguration starting it began to pour with auspicious rain. Some of the Vedic Pandits creatively used the chairs as umbrellas.

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Saints.

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And another.

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Here is the current Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math with Raja Nader Raam.

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My Purusha buddy Mark Schoenfeld.

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Matthew Broenstein (Uttar Kashi Purusha), second from the right is a friend I met via Facebook named Anshu Singh and on the right is a sadhu who only a few years earlier was a school teacher at one of the Maharishi Schools.

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Doug Rexford (Uttar Kashi Purusha), and two dudes from Fairfield – Eric Johnson and Cole Fishback.

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Grandmother with granddaughter and my friend Raul in the background.

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Cuteness!

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Most young Indian children seem to have “Kajal” eyeliner applied by their mothers which is said to help prevent foreign objects getting in their eyes but also to protect them from “buri nazar” which means “bad glance” or the “evil eye”.

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Martin Stipanov (Australian Purusha) and a group of kids outside the temple.

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Proud cousin of a young child who seems worried by the camera pointing in her face. 🙂

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On the 17th of February I got on a train going 5 hrs south to the Brahmasthan of India for my next set of adventures.

My time at the Maha Kumbha Mela was truly unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime, bliss filled, photographic heaven and eye opening to say the least! I am very thankful I didn’t get sick and met so many incredible people from all over the world.

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39 Comments on “108 Faces of Saints & Holy Men, Maha Kumbh Mela

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  16. Your ‘ ‘Tales from India’ have entertained me for hours. So informative, so interesting, I’m mesmerised by it all! Ii’m from Ireland and would love to travel to India but am a bit hesitant as I’m not a sun worshiper and am allergic to mosquito bites!

    Any tips in that regard! Also when is the best time of year to go …… Delhi seems to be the point of arrival on tours from Ireland.

    Thank you. Well done on your ‘blog’. It must have taken days to write.

    • Hi Brid,

      Thanks for the compliments! 🙂 The best time to go in my opinion is between December and February – it’s not too hot and the mosquitos aren’t bad. The main thing is to always sleep with a mosquito net and/or make sure the windows have good screens. Delhi is the main hub but it’s super polluted so I try to get out of there as fast as possible!

      Cheers,

      Asher.

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  29. Kindly extend your co-opration for finding \ visiting Yogi / spiritualized Sadhu/ siddha Sadhus / tricalldarshi sadhus etc .

  30. I have seen in one of your tips for india that you mention a don’t: do not point your feet at a person. What does that mean???

    • Hi Johanne,

      Yes, it is a cultural thing. I believe it is because the feet are considered unclean and so pointing them at people is not nice.

      This can happen when you’re sitting down so the best way to avoid it is crossing your legs or kneeling instead of pointing your feet outwards.

      Hope this helps and have a great trip!

      cheers,

      Asher.

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