Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category
It is a bit surreal to think that we have already been back to Cambridge, back to classes and meetings and syllabi, for a whole week. By comparison, the few days we spent at the Kumbh Mela pursuing our various forms research somehow seem more meaningful, densely packed as they were with experiences and discoveries. My own project was concerned with the role of trees and tree-related traditions in the discourse and activities of environmental and developmental initiatives present at the festival. I was hoping to perhaps document the giving out of some planting material and the veneration of certain established trees, in addition to obtaining more detailed information about the ideas and ideologies as well as practical logistics behind such activities.
Yet what I found once at the Mela went far beyond a few sound bites about tree planting or a smattering of sacred saplings. Throughout the enormous fair grounds there were plants – rows and rows of potted Norfolk pines and palms, dahlias, chrysanthemums, and roses, impromptu lawns laid out in freshly germinated grain and cleanly edged In brick. Many an encampment sported full-out landscaping, with not only formal lawns but creatively laid out pathways, sculptures, and fountains, even artificial trees and hills. I stumbled across the stall of the state-run Horticulture and Food Sciences Research Center at the edge of the fair grounds – they, too, will be giving out tree saplings towards the end of the fair, guava plants to be precise. Not with a specific environmental aim but simply because Allahabad is famous for its guavas and they therefore make a fitting souvenir for visitors. I also visited some of the many nurseries in Allahabad proper and talked to their staff about their dealings with the Kumbh Mela encampments. They all said they have been selling large numbers of potted plants – hardy foliage favorites that can take neglect and popular flowers like chrysanthemums for color – to the camps. Yet while admitting that business was good, they also all showed a certain ambivalence about these sales, as if they regretted submitting their carefully reared plants to an almost certain death in the dusty, smoky, and – worst of all – temporary camps. Every nursery man and woman I spoke to emphasized the transient nature of the event, often with an almost angry precision – “fifty days only, then everything is thrown away!” – as if it were a moral flaw. And perhaps to plant people, accustomed to propagating and nurturing in accordance with nature’s slower cycles of growth, that is what it is.
The importance of these cycles even in the temporary city occasioned by the Kumbh Mela was brought home in a conversation with the sadhu Prahlad Puri of the Juna Akhara. Asked what he does with the marigold garlands used for worship and decoration once they have served their purpose, he said that “since they are given with love, they cannot be thrown away but have to be put in a respectful place, so I put them in the Ganga or hang them on a tree… You cannot bury them in the ground because they are full of seeds. Marigold plants will germinate everywhere”. And sure enough, on a sandbank in the middle of the Sangam of Ganga and Yamuna (and Saraswati) where flower offerings are washed up and where the volunteers of Swami Chidananda Saraswati’s Green Kumbh initiative were burying garlands collected along the edge of the river, there were hundreds of marigold seedlings, emerging singly and in bunches, the product of people’s devotion and the nurturing waters of the sacred rivers, but also of the latter’s inadvertent pollution.
Professor Eck received this sapling as prasad at a launch event for Swami Chidananda Saraswati’s Green Kumbh Initiative. We planted it at Lakshmi Kutir camp yesterday.
Kumbh Mela, January 19
Today we spent time in two different kinds of camps. In the morning, we went into the sector nearest the sangam where the ascetic renunciants live in their akharas. Near the main gate of the largest, the Juna Akhara, we met with Rampuri who has been present at Kumbh Mela for the past 42 years. Born in California and a long-time initiate in the Juna Akhara, Rampuri has both the experience and perspective to be a bridge to the world of our students. We sat for most of the morning around his dhuni, his altar-fireplace, and listen to him respond to our questions about the meaning of the Kumbh Mela and the life of the Juna Akhara. Rahul’s group came late in the morning and worked on the quadrant layout of the whole of the Juna Akhara.
In the afternoon, we went across a long pontoon bridge to the camp of Swami Chidanand Sarasvati, who was launching an effort of the Ganga Action Parivar at the Kumbh. The Governor of the Uttaranchal was there, known widely as the Green Governor, as were mayors of several of the cities along the Ganga, including the mayor of Allahabad. It was a strong indication that cleaning the Ganga will involve not just spiritual commitment, but the leadership of those who deal with urban infrastructure along the River. We had a discussion afterwards with Sadhvi Bhagavati Sarasvati, a Stanford graduate who has been part of the ashram for some sixteen years, and were received at the end of our visit by Swami Chidanand-ji himself. Students keen on understanding the Green Kumbh movement are eager to come back, which we will.
The end-of-the day reports from the four research teams out in Kumbh Nagar today were fascinating.
In many of the encampments of different akharas, sampradayas, and religious leaders of various sorts one finds temporary gardens like this one, ranging from simple rows of potted plants or little strips of sprouting grain edged in brick to elaborate arrangements that combine these elements with features such as fountains and statuary while employing an impressive palette of tropical foliage plants and annual flowers. It will be interesting to investigate whether all of these are purely decorative or if at least some of them also serve symbolic or ritual functions
Kumbh Mela, January 18
By evening the whole team from Harvard had assembled. I think there are about twenty-five of us in all. In the afternoon, the FAS and HDS student group who had been in Varanasi had a first glimpse of the huge expanse of the tent city, the Kumbh City or Kumbh Nagar and settled into our own tents. Then we took off to explore something of the Kumbh grounds –the wide main streets lined with the gateways and camps of the various religious sampradayas gathered under the banner of one of the many religious teachers; the much narrower lanes of the akharas, the camps of the ascetic orders of sadhus or sannyasis, and the broad sandy delta of the sangam of the Ganga, Yamuna, and Sarasvati Rivers, now relatively quiet as dusk fell.
We have had five days in Varanasi walking up and down the Ganga riverfront, discussing the state of the river with Veerbhadra Mishra of the Sankat Mochan Foundation, visiting the central flower market, and generally getting more familiar with the ritual and commercial life of a dense urban city. Everyone is still in good health and excited about the days ahead. Tomorrow we leave at 7:00 a.m. for the sandy flats of the Kumbh Nagar, the city that has been constructed at the confluence, the sangam, of the rivers in Allahabad. We’ll meet our other colleagues there tomorrow evening. Wishing well to all, Diana Eck