A young girl balances on a tight rope while another stands stoically below to collect money from bystanders. One of the many carnival-like acts that occurred in the often whimsical landscape of the Kumbh Mela. There’s something about this girls austerity that struck me. With so much theater, her face seemed to reveal something true. Something hidden behind the colorful facade.
Woman stands amidst flower petals on the edge of the Ganges.
Woman cleans clothes at the roadside faucet.
Sadhu meditates in his tent while offering blessings to passerby’s
Women hang sarees out to dry
Woman rests on a bale of hay.
Women sleeps in here roadside tent as she sells wares.
Girl gazes through the bars of a passing Tuk Tuk
Three young women bathe in the Ganges at sunset.
People gather beneath a painted cement bridge within the Mela.
Man sits with staff in abandoned building where his family is residing during the mela.
Group of women led through the Mela.
Mother and child march towards the center of the mela
A mother sits with her toddler and sells produce roadside.
Man bathes in the Ganges between two of the temporary bridges built to allow passage to and from the mela.
Woman pours the holy water of the Ganges from her hands
Elder women bathe in the Ganges
A Kinnar Akada (transgender) enters living quarters
Woman prepares colored pigment to apply a bindi to her forehead
A group of women sing as they walk towards Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers.
A frenzy of Naga Sadhu’s celebrate Shahi Snan at Sangam, the confluence of three holy rivers.
Woman folds fabric in preparation for the morning walk to the river.
Two young girls await their morning trek to the Ganges
A group of women begin their early morning trek to Sangam
After hours, pressing through kilometers of people, shoulder to shoulder, these women finally reach Mother Ganga. For a few minutes they pray and offer fruit and flowers as puja, the act of worship. The moment is short lived, as millions gather at their backs, seeking to do the same. Soon they recede into the sea of faces, this photograph, the only thing left behind. May their prayers, however brief, be answered. May their lives be full and kind.
Huddled by a fire, a family gathers on the outskirts of the Mela, preparing for their morning walk to Ganga.
Women push through the crowd to bring puja offerings to the Ganges.
Petals float in the Ganges as men and women gather to bathe
Sadhu stands stoically in the cold waters of the Ganges for almost an hour
Body floats seemingly lifeless in the Ganges for several minutes
Mayuri Ma belongs to a sect of transgender Sadhus known within Hinduism as the Kinnar Akada. Like many transgenders in India, she faced the persistent and malicious discrimination that often led others to begging and prostitution. Her strength and ability to endure suffering led her to become a Kinnar Akada, where she can be a voice for those who are voiceless. When I asked her what made her different she replied “A stone cannot be sculpted without a few good hits, every thread in my saree is sewed with pain, and that made me different.” This year, she and her sisters, attend the Kumbh Mela for the first time.
Mayuri Ma, a kinnar akada (transgender), prepares to leave her tent to give blessings to her followers.
Mayuri Ma blesses coins and receives money offerings from followers.
Women gather at the shores of the ganges, pouring water from lota pots, lighting puja offerings and performing ablutions
Two sadhu’s (Hindu sages/priests) converse while a man stirs a giant kettle of milk representing the Samudra Manthan, an auspicious ocean of milk from Vedic mythology. This scene, peppered with religious symbolism, was one of countless others within the grand theater of the Mela. Every street, a cast of characters with stories and wisdom to share. But this was far more than pageantry. This was a reflection of the dense and diverse Hindu culture. This was a glimpse into millennia. These were the most ancient of stories being lived today.
Woman dries saree
Young girl who lives on the outskirt of the mela
Two cows huddled in living quarters overlooking the Mela
Sadhu’s bound in decorative rope march through the mela center.
Vimla, age 60, has lived on the outskirts of the mela with her children and grand children for 3 generations.
One month old granddaughter of Vimla sleeps on cot.
Families clutter together in the densely packed central mela area.
Two young women pray in the Ganges
Woman dwelling in an abandoned building
A man stands, captured in crimson light, downloading the teachings from the glowing roadside sadhu. Here at Kumbh consciousness moves. It is pulled and pushed. For some it shrinks and others it expands.
A woman dries her bright orange saree in the midday sun, likely after dipping it in the Ganges during her morning trip to Sangam. This strange yet beautiful occurrence became common place by the time I’d left the Kumbh. I will always remember these little moments which pop with color and mystery.
Female vendors sell their wares
Women visits local shrine to pray to the Gods
Naga Sadhu’s joyously celebrate Shahi Snan, one of the holiest days in Hinduism.
Hundreds of Sadhu’s prepare to rush into the Ganges for the celebration of Shahi Snan
Little Chand who’s name means Moon in Hindi, stares intently with dark Kajal around her eyes.
Chanda Devi, age 70, lives in a small swampy copse just outside of Sangam with her children and grandchildren. After spending a few minutes with her it was apparent that she was the matriarch of this family, shooing away curious bystanders and keeping the children in check. After sharing some chai I asked if I could do a portrait of her. She shook her head saying “I am poor and most of my teeth are missing”. I smiled and asked my partner to tell her that I do not see her poverty, all I see is beauty. Her eyes lightened and she nodded. May beauty always transcend circumstance.
A lone white horse and its rider cross the temporary bridge towards Sangam
A Kinnar Akada (transgender) applies makeup
Woman prays to Mother Ganga
Young boys dress as girls and ask for money