the flow of life

The Maha Kumbha Mela that took place in Allahabad (Prayag), North India during January and February of 2001 was extraordinary. 75 million pilgrims are said to have gathered by the banks of the sacred Ganges river during the month-long duration of the festival. On the main bathing day, 28 million people were present. How to understand this massive act of faith? What propels ordinary people from all castes and classes to journey from all corners of India to participate in the greatest of Hindu pilgrimages and gathering of holy men?
It is a story about desire, about the desire of the gods and demons for power and immortality, that provides the mythological context for the Kumbha Mela’s significance and a hint of the personal motivations and desires that may inspire a farmer, a bank clerk or any other ordinary individual to become a pilgrim.
The Kumbha Mela has been celebrated since at least the seventh century A.D. when the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsiang wrote about a great gathering of a king, his ministers, pilgrims, holy men and philosophers. The Kumbha Mela occurs in cycles of 3, 6, 12 and 144 years. The festival celebrates the victory of the gods over the demons in taking possession of the pitcher of nectar (after a 12 day battle) so a Full (Purna) Kumbha Mela is celebrated every 3 years in rotation at each of the four places where the nectar of immortality fell on earth: Allahabad (Prayag), Hardwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Therefore, the Full (Purna) Kumbha Mela takes place every 12 years at each of the four places. A Half (Ardh) Mela takes place at each of the four cities every 6 years. A Maha (Great) Kumbha Mela, like the one in 2001, occurs every 144 years (12 x 12 Purna Kumbha Melas) at each of the four cities.

Ako Nakano, 2008

Schmid’s large C-print photographs capture the visual essence of this enormous act of faith.
The images bring to life the crushing, claustrophobic crowds, myriad colors, and frenetic energy of this greatest of Hindu pilgrimages.
“Schmid’s photographs have palpable energy. This coupled with their size—more than five by
eight feet each—make for an experiential and visceral exhibition.”

Beth Citron, New York, 2011