T HERE IS A STRONG FEELING about this Kumbh that it is a peaceful religious occasion and that politics should be kept out of it. There is no tension about Ram Mandir, which was present in the previous Melas.
I have been overawed by the pilgrims, especially the kalpavasis, who are living here. They tolerate conditions which are not good, and yet they are full of praise for the government for looking after them. Their patience and peacefulness is an example to all of us, as is that of the people now flooding into the Kumbh Mela, 95 percent of whom come on foot, mostly from the rural areas. I fear that in the future, as India urbanizes, the Kumbh will become less peaceful and more full of tension brought by the way of life of the urban people, who are impatient and demanding their rights.
People expect too much from the media. We are trying to get the spiritual message of the Kumbh, because otherwise we cannot explain why the people are coming here. It is such an unusual spectacle, which is what attracts the media—the naga sadhus and the huge variety of Hinduism on show. Those people who want to know more about the spiritual side of it should read magazines like HINDUISM TODAY. You cannot expect in-depth spirituality from a daily newspaper, much less from a television show.
His Christian Viewpoint
I have an unusual view for a Christian: I welcome every other religion. As a Christian, I have my own ways on rituals and things like that. I did not think it necessary for me to have a bath in Sangam.
I am not that devout a Christian. I wish I were more devout. When I first came to India as an adult, I was a very orthodox Christian. I believed that there was only one way to God and that was through Christianity. Then I was deeply influenced by India’s openmindedness, and I no longer regard Christianity as the one and only way to God.
I did participate in the Ganga Arati. I was standing there and was asked to come to the front. I was reluctant, as I felt I had no business to be at the front. I have been a witness of it in the past, too, sitting in the back—even when I am in church I like to sit in the back. But I was called forward, and suddenly the arati light was put in my hands to offer to Ganga. It was a great honor for me, one I will never forget, because it was in such beautiful surroundings on the banks of Sangam. I could see all the bright lights twinkling, of this huge great tented city. I think this concept, Ganga is your mother and Ganga is being worshiped, is a beautiful concept.
Mark Tully was born in Calcutta, British India, in 1935, raised in UK and returned to India in 1965 as a correspondent for the BBC
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I’VE BEEN HERE NOW FOR THREE WEEKS, BUT ONLY OVER THE LAST TWO OR THREE days, as we get closer to February 10, is the enormity of it becoming manifest. Suddenly there are huge crowds of people walking the streets with their bags on their heads, so many that you can’t even drive a car on the road. I’ve never seen anything with this power anywhere in the world, and I’ve been to many places for many big events. You hear repeatedly how enormous it all is, but there’s no imagining it until you see it.
Honestly, my feelings about the Kumbh run the gamut. First, I see the very poor people who are devoted and God fearing, who come here for that spirituality and purification. They come because of their fundamental beliefs, and they come in huge numbers. Then I see the very rich, who come to give thanks for what they have. Then there are the sadhus, who come to be with a lot of people like themselves, in an event that’s very primal and powerful.
Most powerful for me has been the time I’ve spent with the sadhus, listening to them talk about their general beliefs, their religion, philosophy of life and the way their lives have been conducted. It has reinforced in me the feelings I had about my own life and how I conduct myself. I’ve learned about people who are willing to completely dedicate their life to their beliefs and their philosophies. They are people with vast knowledge and great sensitivity. A lot of the √sadhus I’ve met are simple country people, but just as dedicated and committed as the very big and evolved sadhus. It’s impossible not to respect them.
Photographing the Nagas
To a foreigner, the nagas seem like a very fine concept. Many of them are warriors, as has been explained to me. All of them, to me, seem very aggressive. I was suspicious because they do not allow you to take a picture of them without paying money. This is an impossible environment for me to photograph in. It’s a commercial relationship. I’m not being myself, and they are not being themselves. When I’ve gone to a village in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Odisha or Madhya Pradesh, I sit with people for three or four days, go to their house, have tea with them. When I finally take a picture, there is a relationship, and the picture reflects that relationship. Here, when I give money, what do I get in return? Am I getting a person who’s posing because he’s been paid to pose, or do I get the essence of the person? That’s the dilemma for me as a photographer.
Fredric Roberts, 70, is a professional photographer who spent six weeks at the Kumbh
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