The Kumbh Mela Religious Celebration
Pan Nalin, an Indian filmmaker traveled to the largest gathering on earth and did so in order to respect one of his father’s wishes. There he met with several amazing people and the result is this film—a meditation on time and faith. Nalin’s film is a beautiful study on the power of devotion. It brings together five stories that are in themselves provocative and totally entertaining.
At the gathering there was a diverse crowd of tens of millions of people who had come for the Hindu celebration that is held every three years at one of four different places. This time we are a place near the Ganges River. The four places are where it is believed in Hinduism that drops of nectar fell from the kumbha carried by gods after the sea was churned. Bathing in these rivers is thought to cleanse one of all sins. The festival is billed as the “world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims”. There is no precise method of ascertaining the number of pilgrims, and the estimates of the number of pilgrims bathing on the most auspicious day may vary; approximately 80 million people attended on 14 February 2013.
Kumbh Mela lasts for fifty-five days and among the activities are ceremonies, discussion, and celebration and it is estimated that one hundred million people attend. Many who are there deal with the question of either embracing faith and the world or abandoning them. The stories that Nalin brings are about Kishan Tiwari, a young runaway boy, Mamta Devi, a mother looking for her son who has been stolen from her, an ascetic who smokes Ganga (marijuana) to stay calm and he supplies it to others. Then there is Hatha Yogi Baba, a yoga who is raising a baby who has been abandoned. At first it seems like we are watching about religious devotion and the search for spirituality but then we realize that while this film is to a degree about spirituality it is also about the ways that we connect with each other.
The gorgeous cinematography makes this a visual feast. Filmmaker Nalin’s cultural documentary feels very personal without being intrusive. It throws us into Kumbh Mela where we meet various attendees including people in power and naked and all those others who are looking for what is lacking in their eyes. Nalin uses interesting techniques that allow the audience to be almost like eavesdroppers. We hear part of many conversations yet we do not feel that those speaking are being exploited. But, as stated, we never feel as if these talks are being exploited to another less privatized group. People are just happy to share the excitement of being these.
We see a lot of close-ups and this is one way of making us feel like we are a part of what is going on. However, the film is long (over 2 hours) and it feels like there is some repetition. This is my only real complaint. The ending is quite powerful but it does not have the same effect it might have had the entire film been cut differently.