The Sadhu of Kumbh Mela
The latest story by the ever-inspiring Jungles in Paris brings us back to colorful India where talented Belgian travel photographer Pascal Mannaerts moved from the camel herders of The Great Indian Desert towards the east of North-India where at four locations the utmost fascinating and impressive Hindu festival Kumbh Mela is celebrated. The festival which takes place at the confluence of three sacred rivers; the Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Sarasvati, is the largest regular gathering of people on earth. Pilgrims come together at a time and place of divine indication, forming a massive swell of humanity from which a single type usually stands out: the sadhu, or holy man.
Unlike ordinary holy men, the naga sadhus, inspire both fear and respect. They disrupt the social order, even as they remain a somewhat volatile part of it, and inject the Mela’s regenerative rituals with a primeval hint of danger.
Hinduism’s wandering monks, the holy men, have been a feature of the Indian subcontinent for 3000 years. They disdain the conventional way of life, cutting all ties with their family, hometown, and local caste group. They practice celibacy and let their hair grow into long, matted dreadlocks, acts of renunciation thought to infuse them with yogic potency. Their meager earnings come from begging, and beyond the paraphernalia they use for religious rituals they might own nothing more than a scrap of cloth and a cooking vessel.
After visiting the Kumbh Mela of 1895, American author Mark Twain wrote:
It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.
Photography by Pascal Mannaerts.
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