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Mar 15: Kumbha Mela, Haridwar

15 Mar
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Naga Babas

Today is one of the the most auspicious days in the entire Kumbha Mela. It is no moon at all and it is a MONDAY. There were two more days like this in the entire 3 months that passed and they are considered as “most auspicious”. Tomorrow, on Tuesday, is another important day but is “rated” only as “auspicious”. We planned the trip to be here on this day and at 2:30 am we walked up together with the entire camp and we started to fast walk to a closer place, only about 30 minutes walk to take a deep in the Ganges. We crossed in dark over some stone erosion barriers and we got to a spot where there were already some other groups. Comparing with all the other nights this night was the warmest, and the temperature was about 12C because you could see your breath in the air.

Around 4:00 am we arrived and  everybody undressed and we followed Babagi, who at his eighty-something is better fit and vigorous that all of us put together. We deepened completely, with water over the head, a kind of baptism, and got out but Babagi stayed in the water till all of us were out. But surprisingly it was not cold outside and it was no rush to dry or dress. It was simply pleasant. It is more difficult for the women because they have to go in the water in sari and they have to change after that. We returned to the camp and we noticed, the same as when we left, that the road was full of people on the move. Long lines of people waiting to go to the Ganga and take the bath together with their spiritual leader. The road was full like it were full day. We got back and relax a little. It was only 5:00 am so we had some tea and we assisted when Babagi made his “duna”, his personal fire offer. I was able even to shoot some. After that I told Lydia that I will go and shoot a little around and started to go around the compound, till I met a guy who pointed me to the places where the Naga Babas are. Going there I realized that everybody was going to the parade in town and I started to run together with a group on Naga Babas. The Nagas are complete renunciates. They do not posses anything, they cover their body in ashes and they live and walk everywhere completely naked. They are highly venerated by the people who touch the ground where they walked. I kind of smeared their steps with my sinned shoes, anchored in the greed of the modern society, running with them and shooting all the time.

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The parade

When we crossed the Ganga I saw that people were already congregated watching all these groups that were supposed to take part in the parade. After several shots I followed Shri Devananda retinue and got on the main drag that was full with floats on tractors representing each baba present and in demand of marketing. I was happily shooting on that street, babas, dressed and naked till they started to move. Here the parade does not happen in a slow pace. People are running so it is quite a show. It took about 1 hour to finish all the floats and after that I watched an amazing exercise in crowd control. To understand what means an Indian crowd you have to have visited once India. No description can match. It is a spiritual dimension that transcended the words. All these events are dangerous because the large amount of people attending. It is happening often to have stampedes and lots of people to be crushed and die, so the amount of police+military police+order people+military+security is so large like I never saw before. And they have ways to deviate people and control the crowds with fencing areas and ropes. I would not want that job and you have to understand that some time are rough.  Usually they are very friendly especially with foreigner but sometime it is nothing to do. But caring my large camera it always helps and they help me pass some “borders” sometime even taking me by the hand and bringing me to the other side. After the parade finished I wanted to come to the Internet , about 300 meters from where I was located, but the amount of effort and waiting was like crossing several real borders with lots of red tape. After Internet I had my lunch of the same restaurant. Here if you did not get sick in one place you try to stick with the same if you can and it proved successful for three days in a row. The food is exclusively veggie, no type of alcohol being served in Haridwar, a holy city of the Ganges and one of the oldest cities in India. After lunch I went to see what happened at the ghats where was the days when only sadhus bath, so the ghats and the entire temple was closed for sinners. But the people were curious to see the holy men bath and they were peeking under a cover to the chagrin of the policemen who were hushing people from one place just to notice that people were moving back right behind him. This circus lasted for a while and I tried myself the chance and shot some footage under the cover. Meanwhile the sadhus were poring over the bridge, leaving the ghats after the ritual bath on the other bridge, coming and leaving with large banners representing their akaras. I had enough of sneaking under the cover and moved further from the temples, to the river shore further down where it was full of people, no comparison with the previous day. Somebody told me that 4 million people came today to take the ritual bath. All these people were sleeping under the sky, right were I saw them sitting. They came in large parties from their villages, commanded by an elder, having with them only a bag of rice and a small material that they put on the ground to sleep or sit on it. The entire area was covered by them. It was an impressive scene and all were bathing happily in the Ganges, putting offers of candles on the steps of the ghats or sending offers on the river, making it a stream of candles. All this is very beautiful and inspiring in the evening when it looks magnificent. Around 8:00 pm , totally crushed by my backpack that was full with things, included the tripod,  taken by my rushed departure with the Naga Babas,  I started to go to the camp where I found my friends sitting at the sastang with Babagi, who  explained the power of oneness, followed by a quick dinner of leaves on the ground of dal and kir.

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Posted by on March 15, 2010 in Blog, India

 

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