Though it seemed then, that a childhood fear had come true, somehow it doesn’t haunt me anymore. And I feel want to go there again. Here are some of the moments of the seven days I spent there, the memory of which is still afresh …
There I was in Allahabad at the Mahakumbh in 2013, in a swirl of humanity, among hundreds of thousands of people, a feast of images for a photographer, a dream come true. But what was this fear playing on the back of my mind?
Let me show you through my pictures what my eyes saw. But let me also share in words what was going on in my mind. I had achieved a huge victory in my own small way: I had overcome one of my biggest fears.
I stood watching, and thinking about my childhood.
A child’s mind is so innocent, it believes whatever it is told by its elders. Sometimes things that have been told to a child cast a permanent impression on the tender mind and they grow with the child. It could be a belief, a ritual or an incident.
As a child I heard about the Kumbh from my elders. How every twelve years, a huge gathering of people takes place on the banks of the Ganga river, where people bathe in its holy waters at the Sangam and pray to God to rid them of their sins.
They also told me about how, because of the unmanageable crowd there, children sometimes got separated from their families or how there would be stampedes, resulting in people dying. I grew up with this fear, and though it subsided with age, I couldn’t completely rid myself of it. Even after my own children were born.
However as I grew up and my love for photography, particularly for fairs and festivals, increased, I thought I should visit the Kumbh at least once in my lifetime. It was in late 2012 that I heard of the Mahakumbh to be organised at Allahabad from January 2013 to March 2013 and that it was going to be very special due to some unique planetary position during those days, a phenomenon which was not going to be repeated in decades to come.
I somehow got rid of whatever childhood fear I had about Kumbh and decided to go there. Starting from Makar Sankranti in January 2013 to Magh Purnima in late February 2013, there were eight days during those two months that were considered very auspicious and were called Shahi Snan days. But it was 10th February, the day of Mauni Amavasya, which was considered to be most auspicious day. So I planned my week long itinerary by including this day in particular.
And what an experience it was. It is said that it was the largest congregation of humans on earth at a single place. An estimated 100 million people visited during those two months and 30 million on one single day on 10th February, the day of Mauni Amavasya. It seems unbelievable, but there were reports from many sources about these figures.
It was really a once in a life time experience. And kudos must be given to the organisers, managing the huge gathering day and night, for more than two months was not an easy task. Tented accommodation was set up by government and by private entities and basic necessities were well taken care of.
We would walk around at night and would see people cleaning the roads. In the daytime there would be people everywhere, in fact three kinds of people I would say, the pilgrims, the sadhu babas and the photographers, yes I was surprised to see so many of them.
They were very interesting subjects, but photographing the sadhu babas was not an easy task especially the Naga sadhus. Occasionally some of them would get annoyed on seeing the camera and would even hit the camera with whatever they had in hand, be it a chimta, tongs, or anything else. I experienced it on the first day, but luckily did not suffer any damage and was more careful on the followings days.
On 10th February, the most auspicious day, I planned to go to the Sangam early in morning when the Naga sadhus were to start processions from their respective akharas and finally reach the Sangam for the auspicious bath. I was staying on the other end from the Sangam, so I started at 02.30 in the morning to reach the Sangam before the processions of the sadhu babas reached. I hired a boat but unfortunately couldn’t reach there in time, due to security reasons. later in the day I did manage to reach the Sangam.
The next day I learnt that around 40 people had lost their lives due to a stampede at the Allahabad railway station. I wish it had not happened. It made me sad. Though it seemed then, that a childhood fear had come true, somehow it doesn’t haunt me anymore. And I feel want to go there again. These are some of the moments of the seven days I spent there, the memory of which is still afresh …