You know sometimes you find an image that you really love…at the time, then, when you go back and look at your files a year or two later, you see something else that really jumps out, that trumps your initial selection. Well, for me this is one of those times. Initially I had chosen the image above as my "hero". It was the expression of intense devotion on the woman's face that got me. I ignored the rest…until now more that 2 years later.
Below are my edits from that particular shoot and now there is only one image that stands out amongst all of them. My initial selection is too cluttered and the people in the back merge with the subject. Can you guess which image is my new champion? My choice is below.
This image shows more of the setting, there is still a lot of emotion in the face of the woman who is performing her bathing ritual, but it is the apparent dispassion of the two ladies in conversation behind her that seals it for me — I wish the guy in the back had not raised his arm but I can live with it. What do you think?
I was going through my files looking for an image from the 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela when I came across this one. I liked the chaos of the hands and arms, as well as the bold colors, but what was it all about? What was going on? Does the image work on its own as a graphic treatment of a moment in time? I don't think so.
Recalling that moment during the first of 8 days that we spent in Allahabad, while there to witness the world's largest gathering of humanity during the Maha Kumbh Mela, I went back and looked at the set of images I had taken. They showed a group of women, one who seemed to be the center of attention in her role as a "seer", performing a ritual puja on the banks of the Ganges. From time to time the woman in the red sari would go into a trance state and start shaking her head while the others attended to her. Seen in the context of the story, this image makes more sense.
I spent 15 minutes watching and photographing this whole session. I had gained their approval before taking one picture so was able to move in fairly close and record the whole event with a wide angle lens. After a minute or so I was invisible to them. From the 80 images that I shot I have narrowed the results down to 16.
We all walk the road, most of the time routinely, but Kumbh wasn't one of those [times], it left memories and this clip adds substance to what I felt there…PK Bhatnagar
The Meaning of Kumbh
The literal meaning of Kumbh is a pitcher, but its elemental meaning is something else. Even as a symbol of pitcher, Kumbh is synonymous with holy activities as in daily life a pitcher (or kalash) is an integral part of all sacred activities in Hindu culture, and this pitcher is a symbol of Kumbh.
Holy scriptures say that in a pitcher, its mouth (opening) symbolizes the presence of Vishnu, its neck that of Rudra, the base of Brahama, all goddesses in the center and the entire oceans in the interior, thus encompassing all the four Vedas. This itself establishes the significance of the Kumbh as symbolized by the pitcher.
Different Forms of Kumbh
We shall not dwell upon the literary meaning of the word Kumbh, but we would like to mention the synonyms and origins. The Kumbh is a pitcher. Kumbh is the human body, it is the abdomen, and the sea, earth, sun and Vishnu are synonyms of Kumbh. The pitcher, sea, river, ponds and the well are symbols of Kumbh as the water from these places is covered from all sides. The sky has the cover of the wind, the sun covers the entire universe with its light, and the human body is covered with cells and tissues. That is why it is Kumbh. Desire, that is longing, is also Kumbh. God Vishnu is also Kumbh as He pervades the entire creation, and the creation pervades in Him.
Elemental Meaning of Kumbh
Kumbh is the confluence of all our cultures. It is the symbol of spiritual awakening. It is the eternal flow of humanity. It is the surge of rivers, forests and the ancient wisdom of the sages. It is the flow of life itself. It is the symbol of the confluence of nature and humanity. Kumbh is the source of all energy. Kumbh makes humankind realize this world and the other, sins and blessings, wisdom and ignorance, darkness and light. Holy rivers are the symbols of the lyrical flow of humanity. Rivers are indicators of the flow of water of life in the human body itself. In the human body that is an embodiment of home, nothing is possible without the five elements. The elements – fire, wind, water, earth and sky – symbolize the human body. The great sage-poet Sant Kabir has explained this sublime thought in his typical manner.
The Himalaya is the abode of the soul of the gods. The Holy Ganga embarks upon its journey from there, encompassing the forests, the mountain sages and the culture of the villages. The Yamuna is a co-traveler as it puts an end to all sins, and it is known variously as Tripathga, Shivpuri and other names. This is the Ganga that liberated the children of the Suryavanshi king Sagar. Its holy water is considered nectar itself.
Jeremy Woodhouse is a professional photographer and traveller. He leads photography trips to all corners of the globe