Maha Kumbh Mela is one of the most extraordinary events on the planet, with up to 70 million pilgrims gathering together for spiritual reasons. Help me to attend and photograph it and become part of the journey by receiving personal travelogues from throughout the festival. I will take You along by weaving a tale of humorous observations mixed with deep contemplations, all sprinkled over with a delicious coating of professional photography.
And why not make the experience really tangible - have a diya, an earthen oil lamp, lit on Your behalf and sent afloat on the Ganges, accompanied by Your wish; receive a blessed scarf or a vial of the sacred Ganges water itself, straight from the heart of the festival. Feel the excitement of becoming part of this spectacular event that sees tens of millions come together for one goal.
For your eyes: www.kjtammsaar.com
For your questions: whereintheworldiskj (insert "at" sign, human :) gmail.com
Maha Kumbh Mela is the biggest spiritual gathering in the world that takes place every twelve years and sees tens of millions of pilgrims travel to the shore of the sacred Ganges river in India for a month full of teachings, debates and devotion. The previous festival, in 2001, saw 30 million people bathe in the river on the opening day of the Mela, reported to be the record number of people gathering on a single day in the history of the world.
I intend to travel to Allahabad in India, stay there for the duration of the whole festival (end of January - end of February 2013) and produce an in-depth photographic essay of this fantastic event of epic proportions. To truly immerse myself in that experience, I want to take time to meditate and contemplate together with these yogis and gurus from all corners of the country, so I could bring back not just exotic images of a distant world, but words and ideas to explain and give a meaning to it.
My biggest expense will be the airfares that make up 2/3 of the budget. The rest will cover the campaign fees plus my accommodation and travel costs within the country that I can fortunately keep to the bare minimum, knowing the Indian haggling secrets inside out by now (all the photos used in the slideshow above are from my previous work in India and Nepal).
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My name is Kristjan-Jaak Tammsaar and I'm a documentary photographer, currently living in London where I recently finished my MA in Photojournalism.
In 2007, I set out from my home in Estonia on the freezing coast of the Baltic Sea with a friend and a backpack, on an overland journey towards the Orient. Exactly six months from the day I closed the gate of my family home behind me, I stood on a barren mountain top in Tibet, at 4,750m, amidst fluttering prayer flags above the solitary Ganden monastery.
I had passed through democracies and dictatorships; through cultures with one God, thousands of Gods or none whatsoever. It seemed that for months on end the only constant in my life had been the lack of it, yet there was still something invariable. Once you peeled back the superficial differences in language, religion and traditions, the core of the humanity shone all the same, and everywhere I passed, I was accompanied by the boundless grace and curiosity towards 'a traveller' - one who has come to learn and see, not to take and impose.
This experience started me off on a lifelong journey of exploration, both of the physical and metaphysical world, and to document and participate in the biggest spiritual gathering in the world seems only the next logical step.
Unfortunately in today's fevered world of urgent two-minute soundbytes there is not much room for slow and prolonged photographic projects, and the conventional means to fund such undertakings have been drying up fast.
And that's where crowdfunding, that means YOU, has been breaking down walls left and right, making a loud statement that our genuine interests are not being satisfied by the old media, increasingly shallow in its content.
The story of Maha Kumbh Mela
India is a vast ancient land of thousands of deities, now coming of age, with its first Mars mission expected to launch as early as next year. While the nation is staking its claim in space, much of India still lives according to the customs and traditions that ruled the land thousands of years ago.
While the concept of ‘a pilgrimage’ has become almost extinct in Western vocabulary, every year tens of millions of Hindus undertake painstaking journeys around the country, seeking spiritual insight. Of the many ‘yatras’, none is considered as sacred as the Maha Kumbh Mela that takes place every 12 years.
The ‘Mela’ (‘gathering’ in Sanskrit) alternates between four holy cities but it is the one in Allahabad that is considered most auspicious because of its location at the confluence of the three holy rivers - the mother Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. It is believed that during the Mela the rivers turn into purifying nectar and dipping oneself in the water will wash away lifetimes of karmic debt, thus literally providing a shortcut to ‘nirvana’, the eventual liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
The last Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, in 2001, saw 30 million people bathe in the rivers on the opening day of the Mela, reported to be the record number of people gathering in a single day in the history of the world. As the number of pilgrims has been increasing manifold, 2013 may well see this record broken.
For one and half months the barren riverbanks will transform into a sprawling tent city filled with religious debates, spiritual teachings and devotional singing. The auspicious occasion will see gurus, sadhus and saints from all over India gather together to share their wisdom and knowledge. From the masters of wealthy ashrams who arrive with an army of disciples, to solitary yogis who descend from their ice-bound Himalayan caves, Kumbh Mela brings together the most incredible variety of spiritual teachers anywhere in the world.
Religious myths aside, what drives millions to suspend the rat-race and take on this arduous journey, seeking the guidance of men who have set out to discover the deepest secrets of one’s own mind? While we may have conquered the secret of space-flight and developed enough elaborate weaponry to destroy the planet many times over, our actions are frequently still guided by the turmoil of our restless minds with its crude primeval urges. By often focusing on nothing but external, we seem to have dangerously neglected our innermost world,and despite the tremendous technological leaps, we increasingly find ourselves left wanting and unfulfilled, wondering about our purpose.
It’s my good fortune to have been acquainted with meditation. The fifty days of my life that I’ve spent in retreat from the society, slowly taming my mind for 10 hours a day, have been a mere scratch on the surface, yet a permanent one. I fear that until we give these ancient techniques, often misunderstood in the West, a fair chance, our progress may continue to be one-sided as no culture or civilization possesses the monopoly on truth.
So it is that I want to return to the source of many of these teachings and
techniques, to portray and question the men who have often chosen to live a life so different to ours that they might as well be members of a different species. If the West is to grow and mature holistically, it may be time to acknowledge that rather than seeing the Orient as a juvenile savage in desperate need of our guidance and help, it might be more beneficial to see this interaction as the barter of equals, with strengths and weaknesses evident on both sides.
“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.”
- Mark Twain, 1895