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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.
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.
Everyone from babies to Grandmothers attended the event. The wide array of sights and colors was absolute eye candy if I ever did see.
This man is reciting the Vedas on the banks of Ganga.
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.
Women often walk in groups and are adorned in the most beautiful saris.
The water was a wee bit chilly but by mid morning the sun warmed us quickly.
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 :).
The ability of the women to carry heavy bags on their heads never ceases to amaze me. Their necks must be sooo strong!
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.
This lady is expertly balancing a gallon of Ganges water on her head – striking!
Colors galore making the Western world so boring in comparison.
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!
All different saints from all different religious and spiritual groups were gathered at the Kumbh Mela.
These two Grandmothers posed for me without asking. I love the serene look in their wisdom filled eyes.
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.
Sadhus in the Maharishi tent.
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 stands proud with the Ashram security guard.
This inquisitive boy caught my attention.
The whole event was very blissful and felt like a cosmic celebration. Happy smiling faces were seen everywhere through the Mela grounds.
Orange was one of the predominant colors.
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.
The Sadhus of all ages were seen wondering the streets of the Mela.
Hey it’s Santa!
Indian ladies are so graceful with their beautiful saris perfectly folded while balancing a heavy bag on their head.
It’s all about the EYES.
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. 😀
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.
Cutest little girl EVARRR!
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.
Pinkest sari I have seen.
Happy motor bikers.
Streets in the city of Allahabad.
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 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.
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.
Local store near the ashram. This boy is the younger brother of Raul (mentioned above).
He was wearing a beige suit in the Mela grounds – brave!
Oh the COLORS!
Cobra charmers – another gimmick for money. I love snakes though!
I think this sadhu may have had too much turmeric for breakfast.
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.
One of my favorite pics from my 10 days in Allahabad.
A pot smoking “sadhu” who invited us to his shaded shack. I was grateful for the midday solace from the sun!
The light was celestial in the evening time.
This group requested their photo to be taken.
More sadhu sniping.
I love the folds in his shawl.
The ladies were often seen roaming gracefully in large groups stopping for some shopping and giggling like school girls with happy smiling faces.
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!
Two more faces.
The roads were kept wet to try and keep the dust down.
This was the Northern most tip of the Kumbha Mela known as sector 6. You can see an interactive map here.
And that one.
Everyone was super friendly and most people wanted their picture taken.
Veggie market. The logistics necessary to feed millions of pilgrims in a 5 mile radius must be insane. Only in India.
At almost every intersection there was an army official to help guide the traffic and deal with crowd control.
This boy was very inquisitive and really wanted his picture taken.
This man was joyfully singing songs while he walked the streets of the Mela grounds.
Proud young sadhu.
The Barber Shop.
I love this pic – these kids were super cute!
This photo for me captures the essence of the Kumbh Mela grounds.
Another very happy holy man.
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.
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 🙂
These gentlemen demanded that their picture be taken. The sunset lighting makes for quite a glow on their faces.
Looks like he may have been having a little too much chewing tobacco by the color of his eyes and teeth.
Likewise for this sadhu.
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”.
Anyone for some white bread? There were stalls dotted everywhere with all the supplies you may need while at the Kumbh Mela.
Nathaniel a little dazed and anxious after we were pulled behind a bike rickshaw for a mile.
Tomatoes anyone? Notice how polluted the air is filled with a fine dust.
This guy was cruisin’ through on an unknown important mission.
These guys are trying to wet the ground everywhere so as to reduce the dust. It definitely works but then things get muddy.
I essentially have “camera trap” effect here with the use of flash and slow shutter speed.
I do not know how the ladies balance sideways on the back of scooters and motorbikes?!
Three tired travelers on the back of a bike rickshaw :D.
Proud dad. Screaming child.
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.
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.
An Australian friend, Peter Fenwick. The golden glow in the background is the lights at the sangam which were on a way to.
Everyone over at the sangam taking their holy dip = bliss.
Our pirate ship captain – aaarr!
Erin Pillman and I at the inauguration of the Maharishi Samadhi Smarak in the afternoon of the 15th of February.
An exquisite painting of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the center of the smarak.
Within minutes of the inauguration starting it began to pour with auspicious rain. Some of the Vedic Pandits creatively used the chairs as umbrellas.
Here is the current Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math with Raja Nader Raam.
My Purusha buddy Mark Schoenfeld.
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.
Doug Rexford (Uttar Kashi Purusha), and two dudes from Fairfield – Eric Johnson and Cole Fishback.
Grandmother with granddaughter and my friend Raul in the background.
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”.
Martin Stipanov (Australian Purusha) and a group of kids outside the temple.
Proud cousin of a young child who seems worried by the camera pointing in her face. 🙂
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.
Asher has been traveling the world since he left Australia to study in the USA in 2004. He received a Master’s in Business Administration degree in 2013. He has lived all over the globe including India, Europe, Hawaii, and mainland US. He enjoys researching the travel industry, loves being a dad, cooking & eating delicious food, photography (took many of our photos), surfing big waves on Maui, camping trips and walking barefoot on the earth.