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Ujjain - Portraits & Reflections

When you watch, there's nothing to see

When you listen, there's nothing to hear


When there's no desire, all things are at peace

~ Lao Tsu (Tao Te Ching)

When you are not a part of it, when you are not an insider

it is easy to see all, it is easy to understand it in entirety

When you are one with it, you only get to see what you want to see

"There's this Kumbh Mela starting in Ujjain next week, you should go there", he said as we entered the elevator.


"err....I'm not religious you know"

He always had this air about him that I don't like, passive aggressive, touchy...

"I saw your photos of Pushkar, those people will find lots of interesting people in Kumbh mela to shoot"

That got me thinking. Perhaps I should go, I thought and I did - this was in April 2016.

Kumbh Mela in Ujjain wasn’t like the one in Prayagraj (Allahabad).

There was little water in the river - hardly enough to flow - unlike Ganga, fed with gushing snow melts rushing down the mountains, Kshipra is not vigorous at all - there're no snow melts to feed it - only inconsistent rains and mountains streams from Vindhyas.

At that time of the year, there were just a few puddles of water here and there - I suspect the local administration managed to let some water out of a reservoir for people not to miss the river.

There wasn't the flow of people either - unlike Prayagraj where there's a constant, unrelenting flow of hoards of people. There were some folk sure, here and there like puddles in Kshipra. 

Not that I am complaining, there's always a flip side to everything. Lesser people, more space and peace, lesser chances of being an apple in a jack (that happened to me, oh! that was scary).

People come to take a bath in the Kshipra (considered holy) and seek blessings of ascetisc, especially the Aghoris.


The Aghoris

Also called Naga Sadhus, they wear ash for clothes, ash they pick from creation grounds, from the funeral pires that burnt themselves out, they smear their bodies with it. It's a form of ascetism that includes warriorhood. They are supposedly the protectors of the religion. I don't know the origins of this need for warrior ascetics but true to being warriors they are known to be on short fuse and quick to anger - not all of them, only those who go full hog with the weed and lose their heads, they crash land on the unenlightened, normal people, people like you and me.

At the top end of of the Aghori enlightenment spectrum are learned, stoic, goal less ascetics, guided by their own rules and religious texts. They don't care for your portraits, don't care for money, alms, don't care to eat, true to the spirit of being an ascetic. They don't care for your attention, there are just there. Go to them if you want. 

Each To His Own

Some accost you, "aao bacche!" (literally: "come here kid"). Aghoris consider the normal people to be kids (figuratively) less enlightened. "Come here, I'm harmless, I will only bless you" - that's what it means.

They expect some alms (money is the most preferred) and adulation. But when a camera appears instead of a face over shoulders, expressions are interesting.

Some are too stoned to accost you, just go, seek a blessing and pay up. 

"More, more!, what is this? who do you think I am?", he growled angrily. Anger begets alms. He needs to survive too, I get it.

Some have colorful turban (looks like a candy wrapper) wrapped around their heads by their disciples, some wear copious amounts of Rudraksh.

Most raise the right hand showing the palm - a sign of blessing. It is an invitation as well, a sign that they are not confronting you, that you are welcome to approach, most people do, that's what they come here in the first place.