Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, India
Larger than Life or a Slice of Life?Sublime and surreal, Kumbh Mela is an absolute-must for anyone earning their graduate degree in Festivals. For a few dozen hours, this celebration represents both the most populous place on earth and the most devoted spot on the planet. It combines our modern ills with our historical myths, age-old magic with organizational precision. It is captivating and makes you feel like a captive. The fact it goes on for 55 days this year is mind-boggling to me.
At its heart, it’s an earthly festival dedicated to transcending the earthly realm. And, it’s full of gurus, an oddity to me until I remembered that America is full of its own...devotion isn’t limited to the Indians. The modern world is full of vehicles for devotion - whether it be the treadmill or the TV.
While I don’t understand Hindi, I was given remarkable access to a dozen gurus (or “Babas”). There’s substantial evidence showing that when someone devotes 10,000 hours of their life to a particular practice or skill, they have great potential to become a master. For some of these gurus, 10,000 hours represents just a year for of practice and many have been doing this for decades.
But, while the practice of having a guru may be old-world, some of these gurus seemed very modern, even checking cell phones on occasion.
Kumbh Mela is not an easy trek. If I could summarize my experience, it would be, “Full life, full breath.” As poet Mary Oliver suggested, “Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”