Revisiting the Maha Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, 2013 —
A Nag Baba who has taken a vow to stand one leg for 9 years
Last year from January 14th to March 10th the Kumbh Mela, thought to be the largest religious gathering on earth (estimated at over 100 million attendees in 2013), was held on the banks of the Holy ‘Sangam’-the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and where the mythical Saraswati River is believed to run deeply beneath. A holy dip into the waters is understood to cleanse the soul and free the adherent from their past sins (karma), and thus becoming eligible for liberation from the cycle of birth and death. As such the Mela is attended by millions of devotees and Sahdus, who leave their haunts, caves, temples, and forests to partake of these particularly propitious surrounds. It is considered auspicious to bathe in the river as part of the morning/sunrise prayers. However the Kumbh Mela dictates specific days and times that are considered the auspicious moment to dip, which changes according to the astrology.
The legend goes thus- the gods and the demons fight for a pot of nectar (Amrit Kumbh): the nectar of immortality. Lord Vishnu, disguising himself as an enchantress (Mohini), seized the nectar from the demons. While fleeing from the evil ones, Lord Vishnu passed the nectar on to his winged mount, Garuda. The demons finally caught up with Garuda and in the ensuing struggle, a few drops of the precious nectar fell on Allahabad, Nasik, Haridwar and Ujjain. Since then, the Maha (Great) Kumbh Mela has been held in all these places, alternately, every 12 years.
Marla Apt, the photographer for this essay and Senior Iyengar Yoga instructor, made the pilgrimage to Allahabad and returned with these ardent intimate images. “When I dipped en masse at the anointed hour, it was around noon. However, I appreciated the quietude on the the banks of the river every dawn when the pilgrims would make their sunrise offerings.”
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All Photography © Marla Apt