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15 Photos That Capture The Madness And Devotion At The Simhasth Kumbh Mela

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By Roshni Khatri:

“I talk to God but the sky is empty.”

This quote by Sylvia Path certainly makes me relate to my inner confusion about God, faith, our respective existences and destiny in general. This post is not about finding the unknown but is about the power of the unknown, it is about the power of faith.

Our cultural mythology is impeccable and traditions unbeatable. Simhasth Kumbh which took place in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh got a lot of coverage in the news since it began on the 22nd of April. The Mahaparv ended on the 21st of May and saw millions and millions turn up for the festival from across the country.

During the Kumbh, taking a holy dip in the river Kshipra has a special meaning.

Legend has it that the churning of the ocean by the Devas (gods) and the Danavas (demons) yielded 14 gems and a jar full of Amrit (nectar). The gods did not wish to share it with demons. At the instance of Lord Indra, the King of the Gods, his son Jayanta tried to run away with the jar and was followed by some of the demons.

During the struggle for its possession, lasting for twelve days in heaven, a few drops of the nectar dropped at four places corresponding with Haridwar, Prayag, Ujjain and Nasik on the Earth. The drops of nectar were well received by the holy rivers at these places.

Now, what interested me in the festival was not just the legend and the ‘holiness’ of the Kshipra river but my desire to study the social spaces made around the Kshipra in the city by people living in their camps with naga sadhus (those who have given up life, done the ‘pind-daan’), saints and religious heads who came to attend the festival. The cluster of camps made with several people living in tiny spaces after travelling from distant places in the hot humid weather completely explains the extent of faith in our country. With children playing around in a corner and havans going on in the other corner, it was interesting to see how religion and faith brought communities to live together in tents, temples, and little spaces.

The Simhasth Kumbh is celebrated as the largest spiritual gathering in the world. This event is based on the celestial line-up of the planets and the signs of the Zodiac which occur in every 12 years. I heard someone say during the festival that about 73000 gods and goddesses are believed to be present during the course of the festival.

Well, I don’t really know about the authenticity of all that which is said or believed. I don’t know if the devis or devtaas were actually present or that a dip in the Kshipra during the Kumbh can release you of all your sins but I know one thing for sure, the power of faith and dedication towards tradition in this country is striking and astounding.

A view of the Kshipra river and its ghat.
The Kshipra river during the festival in Ujjain.
Portrait of a Naga Sadhu, seated and facing the camera.
Portrait of a Naga Sadhu.
A wall with swastika marks made by the devotees.
Tangled, intricate, complex: Faith.
Crowds rush in at the Kumbh as four sadhus in the foreground pose for the camera.
People in the rush of the Kumbh.

Naga sadhus seated inside a tent. A man on the side smokes a chillum.

A naga sadhu seated outside his tent wearing goggles.
A naga sadhu sitting next to a little space he had created of his own next to his tent.
Devotees take a dip in the holy river Kshipra.
The holy bath which is believed to release a person of his/her sins in life.
Four women among other devotees arrive at the mela carrying their luggage on their heads.
People travelling in the scorching heat with their luggage.
Women working in one of the camps, cooking food for hundreds, share a moment.
Women working in one of the camps, cooking food for hundreds, share a moment.

Two devotees seated inside a tent. The one on the right is a young boy wearing a cowboy hat.

A sadhu walking with his belongings on one shoulder plays a flute with his other hand.

A sadhu dressed as Lord Shiva next to the Kshipra river, who talked to the photographer about how he believed that God was one. A beautiful picture taken at dusk.
A sadhu dressed as Lord Shiva next to the Kshipra river, talked to me about how he believed that God was one.
A naga sadhu sitting under a tree with one arm raised.
An environmental portrait of a Naga sadhu across the street.

A sadhu focuses his strong gaze directly at the camera.

The image focuses on the statue of a lion. The blurry crowds below make it more prominent.
Chaos of the never-ending rush.

All photographs by Roshni Khatri.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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