Photographers' Blog

The biggest show on Earth

Allahabad, India

By Ahmad Masood

The Maha Kumbh Mela, or the Grand Pitcher Festival, is one of the biggest gatherings of people on earth; it takes place every 12 years and goes on for 55 days, in one of four cities in India : Allahabad, Ujjain, Haridwar and Nashik.

I moved to India from Afghanistan last year and the Mela, as it is called, was one of the assignments I wanted to cover.

My memories of the word β€œMela” come from the times when I used to watch lots of Bollywood movies. Some of these movies would show brothers separated during this massive, chaotic gathering at childhood and then re-united decades later as adults.

At the Mela, the challenge for me was to make a clear picture from masses of people assembled for the holy bath.

The most frustrating part for me was that I could not get to an elevated place where I could show the large number of people from a vantage view point, as one of the greatest shows on earth takes place on the banks of the Ganges river, with a vast flat area around it.

The cycle of life and death

By Adnan Abidi

β€œGanges is Holy,” said my boatman as I pointed my camera to photograph devotees half submerged in the blackish brown waters of the sacred river, the second most polluted in India. It was my third day on a photography assignment on Bihar- a sprawling state on the Gangetic plains of eastern India. My brief was to cover the overall progress of Bihar, hence I planned to photograph a bridge under construction over this sacred river. After a couple of shots with my wide angle lens I shifted to telephoto and as I zoomed in I saw a crow, a crow savoring or maybe just sitting on a corpse.

The boatman wasn’t as shocked as I was. This was no extraordinary sight for him. He continued to praise the progress of the state, and its new efficient minister but said things will not change overnight. On seeing me still shocked about the corpse he revealed that as Hinduism describes Moksha as liberation from the cycle of life and death, freedom forever from earthly miseries and sufferings, the holy river Ganges is believed to be a pathway to attain Moksha. And Hindus believe that dying on the banks of this holy river enable a soul to attain Moksha. So at very short intervals, sometime just weeks, people here see corpses floating on the river, and its an accepted phenomenon. He said that’s the way of life here and still there was progress!

I smiled at his optimism. He was all praises about the current government and the development it had brought even though personally he still lived hand-to-mouth. Earning his daily bread was an extreme challenge, for he like many boatmen had no option but to stay in the boat (floating in water) as they could not afford land. Even though there is a lack of basic resources, catastrophic flooding every year, and the lingering impact of poor past governance, there was a ray of hope in Bihar. I wondered if all this progress could bridge the gap between prosperity and poverty- a mammoth task that lay ahead for the current Bihar government.