I went to London this week to see a photographic exhibition of the 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela at Allahabad by London based Polish photographer Boguslaw Maslak . His images, some featured here from photographs taken at the exhibition, brought back vivid memories of my own time at the same gathering of pilgrims.
Located in the Nehru Centre, St Audlies Way, London, the Indian Government’s Council for Cultural Relations building which hosts events and exhibitions providing a window into the culture of India, the exhibition spanned across 2 large rooms. The photographs ranged from wall mounted A1 sized images, which dominated the walls upon which they were hung, to more intimate 12 x 16 inch prints found throughout the exhibition space. The main subjects of the photographs were the colourful Sadhus, or holy men, who are visual representations of the spiritual struggle Hindus face on their individual journeys to Nirvana; these are considered to be closer to god than most humans and blessings from them are a significant part of the pilgrimage for many people.
I was lucky to spend most of an afternoon talking with Boguslaw about his journey, his photographs and the struggles of delivering art to an audience. Interestingly, another dimension to his art besides still photography is film making and he was showing extracts from the current film he was creating which he is calling Supernovas. He described Supernovas as people who live extremely creative and iconic lives but die prematurely, often explosively and dramatrically, and gave examples of people who fit into this description, John Lennon, Gandhi, John F Kennedy. A part of the film portrays Boguslaw walking through the millions at the Maha Kumbh Mela incongruously dressed in a bankers suit, which he also wore whilst dramatically praying next to rows of slaughtered water buffaloe in a recent sacrificial ritual in Nepal which appalled the world.
Some of his exhibited images are presented here and do not reflect the beauty of the original images. These are photographs I took of the originals, slightly cropped in reproduction. Our conversation partly included exchanging stories and experiences from the Mela, where he remained for 45 days, double the time I managed to stay there. I expressed my surprise that we had not met; his distinctive ‘bankers suit’ would have been extremely hard to have ignored but the millions there surely mitigated against a chance meeting. He described some of his encounters with Sadhus and both our experiences suggested that although they are revered as spiritual beings a large proportion have a very firm grip on the temporal world, displaying trappings such as mobile phone and a keen eye for business. As photographers we experienced similar difficulties, not least the police who were hyper-vigilant as the major bathing day approached and insisted photographers without offical permits had to remain at least 100 yards from the river bank.
A steady flow of people came and went throughout the afternoon, both of Indian and English background, and one family came where the parents had attended the last Maha Kumbh Mela at Allahabad in 2001.
Boguslaw’s web site is here where his portfolio can be seen and more information about Supernovas provided.