MahaKumbh - Part 2, NagaBabas.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I have not wanted to make any post more than this one, but things have kept cropping up, keeping me busy and this has felt like nothing less than an obstacle race. But I also realise that the various interactions I have had with my closest people have shaped this post to be the way it is and each conversation has given me more clarity on my own perspective about the powerful and magical and yet very real Mahakumbh 2013. This is day 2 and the BIG DAY, it is Basant Panchami and the day of the Shahi Snan or Royal bath of the sages and Sadhus and famed Naga Babas who come down from their mountainous retreats to the plains and are visible to the common man. We are all up at 4am and have hit the road with our camera's at 4.30 am and the streets are already full with the marching people who have come in from all parts of India to take a dip in the confluence of rivers on this auspicious day. If we saw people yesterday, today was when the crowds really came pouring in, from everywhere. It felt as if all of India's pious was there to mark its attendance.
As large groups of orange flag weilding devouts and Sadhu's march in with their processions, we were waiting poised and ready and in position for the Naga Baba's. But before we speak of the Naga Baba's it is very important to mention the god they follow, the ash smeared and tiger skin wearing omniscient yogi, Lord Shiva is the only ascetic God who wears snakes for ornaments, the crescent moon and the mystical and powerful river Ganga in his hair and once drank poison so he could save the world. The third part of the trinity, Shiva represents the dark night, destruction, death and detachment and is the very picture of formidable fierceness. And paradoxically he is also the ideal family man and the master of Cosmic dance. And the Naga Baba's are his worshippers. They wear only their dreadlocks, marigolds and are ash covered and live in the Himalayan mountain ranges in seclusion and penance. The Aghori sect claims to keep company with ghosts, or live in cemeteries as part of their holy path. Known for their fierceness and even aggression, they live such a life of renunciation that even basic necessities such as food and clothing are dispensed with as part of their spiritual process.
I had seen pictures of Naga baba's through time and I awaited my turn like the rest of us. And they came, preceeded by the Senior Naga Baba's sitting tall astride horses and holding aloft their Tridents. Marching, jumping, stomping, running, full of energy and vitality they filled the streets with their joy and their war cries of "Har har Mahadev".  It was electric.I had never felt more alive, or or more charged or more safe, Separated by thin barricades of bamboo we photograhers ran alongside the gorgeous fierce and the childlike Naga babas. I who could not bring myself to take one picture of people changing after their holy dip, thought nothing of running along the Naga Babas stark in their nakedness, taking pictures of them as much as light would permit, such was their comfort in their skin & the quality of the moment. All I could think of was, omg, omg, look at them, I hope I get pictures, pictures that do this moment justice and pictures that do their vitality jusice. And it was challenging.
 I have never photographed under such conditions, the light was low. And there was crazy super fast action everywhere, my subject and me both were constantly running. At many points I felt my only attempt was to get one single frame without a fellow photographer or a policeman in it. The place was a boon and a bane for a photographer, because there was action just about 360 degrees around you but capturing it without a shake and then trying to get a halfway decent shot was your challenge. I was shooting and working at a pace completely alien to me. For someone who normally takes pictures of only table-tops and immobile objects and almost never of people, it was like being thrown into the deep end of the ocean without knowing any swimming.
I am brought up a Hindu and all my life I had seen the domesticated side of Hinduism and then to see this wild child, unclothed, free and exuberant Naga baba version of Hinduism was suddenly such a startling cut to what I thought I always knew. Yes, I had heard of Shiva and his bhuta gana's but it was all in the mythological zone. But to see the Naga Babas in flesh and to feel their spirit gave a very real dimension to the whole thing. I found the NagaBaba's extremely child like in their energies. Innocent and clean. They didn't care about clothes and when we saw them we too ceased to care whether they wore them or no. So whole and complete and beyond clothes was their bearing and attitude. 
It was rumoured that a few photographers had their camera's snatched and twirled and broken by the NagaBabas. 
Putting up their pictures whole and uncropped is what will do them justice, but some of my close friends and family warned me about my blog suddenly getting classified as 'adult' and I saw some of my family getting a little taken aback at the pictures, so I am going to err on the side of caution in this post & put up pictures that will hopefully not offend too many of you. But please do be honest and let me know, if you are hungry for more (because there is a lot more). Or if you think you have seen enough. I really do want to hear from you guys on this one.There are certainly more posts from the MahaKumbh and atleast one more on Naga Baba's coming up.

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