Feb 28, 2013

Kumbh Mela 4 of 5 - Juna Akhara

I hope to convey with this reader’s hands something of the beauty of his voice. His rhythmic cadences rocked that afternoon in Juna Akhara. Across the way from the reading, Anil , a Phd. Candidate in Hindi culture, identified the chant for me. When I asked about staying in the camp the night before the next bathing day, Anil arranged that with the baba he was studying with, Swami Thana Pati.

Thana Pati is 28 years old. He became a swami after 11 years of training. This portrait was taken as an assistant was helping him dress at about 4AM on February 15th for the procession to the bathing areas. On the afternoon of the 14th when I arrived to spend the night the Swami asked me (through a translator) not to take pictures until 4am the next morning so that “everyone will be relaxed.” Later the swami made two exceptions to his request for no photos before 4AM the next morning.

The first exemption was for the beauty of the sunset—seen here behind the naked sadhu next door.

A second exception was made for the evening prayers of the swami and his devotees.

The next morning Swami Thana Pati blesses a young naga baba just before we went to the meeting place for the 7AM procession. (Pictures I took earlier that morning of the 4AM procession were used in the first Kumbh post to illustrate the mythic origins of the mela.)

After the procession the devotees took turns washing the swamis feet. They caught the water that they poured over his feet in a bowl. Some of them drank every drop of that wash water. 

Swami Thana Pati seemed to me to be a very level-headed fellow with a sincere and warm smile. He is one of the relatively few babas at the camp that do not smoke dope. Other than his passion for collecting foreign currency, I don’t know that he has any materialist ambitions. It might just be my cultural differences coming out, but, still, I do think all humans ought to come with warning label that says, “Worshipping me may be hazardous to my health.”

The February 15th 2nd procession begins

I like this candid portrait because it fits so well with the dark night of the soul of Christianity. Despite all the smiling babas this darkness exists in Indian spirituality as well. As Simone Weil put it: 

“The world must be regarded as containing something of a void in order that it may have need of God.” 

Thanks to Jackie Clements for sending me this picture of me and my Pentaxes. The attached DA15mm prime lens on the camera I’m holding was used to take most of my Kumbh Mela pictures.

A mother with children as shaved and ash covered as herself takes a bath alongside the naga babas as her kids wait.

A naga baba with a modesty garland poses after reapplying ashes after his bath.

The rarely seen double dick-stick trick is one example of a great deal of horse play that goes on before and after the procession. There are mock fights with wooden shafts and a lot of sword waving.

Pilgrims that must have been waiting here most of the night to get this prime spot just behind the barricades.

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