In Februrary 2013, Austin-based photographer Greg Davis set out to India to document the world’s largest spiritual pilgrimage – the Maha Kumbh Mela. Taking place every twelve years in Allahabad, the Kumbh Mela is where Hindus go to bathe in sacred waters to absolve themselves and their ancestors of sin – breaking the chain of reincarnation and permitting them access into the afterlife.
The 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela was the largest on record to date – with an estimated total of 120 million visitors over the 55 day festival. On the most auspicious day, determined cosmically when Jupiter enters Aquarius and the sun enters Aries, over 30 million people bathed in the waters of the Sangam in an area about the size of Leander, TX.
Davis’ most recent exhibit of the Kumbh Mela took place this past May at the Blanton Musuem of Art, where he also held the first Austin screening of his short film Cloth Paper Dreams. The exhibit and film both provide intimate glimpses into the souls of those who made the epic journey. Here, the National Geographic Creative photographer provides a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the photos and the film that document this monumental event.
TO THE OTHER SIDE
Eighteen temporary pontoon bridges were erected during the 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela to facilitate pedestrian traffic between the banks. The large metal tanks the bridges are built upon resemble a herd of marching elephants from a distance.
PLAY the audio clip below to hear how Greg got the shot.
It is widely believed that those who make the pilgrimage to Kumbh Mela will serendipitously meet their guru. The man pictured above, Dr. Eugene Johnson, is whom Greg identified as his.
PLAY the audio clip below to hear how Greg met his guru.
During the summer season, the land upon which the citizens congregate during Kumbh Mela is completely submerged under water.
PLAY the audio clip below to hear Greg describe the “Atlantis for the soul.”
THE SKY IS MY ROOF
Mohan (pictured above) is one of the three men the film Cloth Paper Dreams follows. Here Greg is shown recording the poetic Mohan as he describes his journey of faith.
PLAY the audio clip below to hear Greg explain how he met Mohan.
A METAPHOR BEFORE US
Greg passed these doors every day during his voyage and though the subject is not something he normally photographs, he felt something calling him to take this one. On his return home Greg later realized that this photo serves as a metaphor for Kumbh Mela.
PLAY the audio clip below to hear Greg explain the metaphor behind the image.
THE MARIGOLD MANTRA
NECTAR OF IMMORTALITY
It is believed that the moment one bathes in the confluence of the three rivers during the Kumbh Mela they are broken free from the cycle of reincarnation. The photograph taken above – and one Greg almost missed – captures that special moment of salvation.
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