Amazing Environmental Audio from Maha Kumbh Mela

I’ve been back from India just over a year now, back living in the US and in that time its been a real struggle, both on a personal level and financially.
Looking back on that time, a half-year spent in India, thinking about it and thinking about how much I miss it, and yearn for the Utopian chaos to run through my veins once more.
I have edited my photography over and over trying to extract the essence of the experience. However the personal journey that India was to me, has obscured my objectivity, something that only time can distill.
I have started once again on the editing process, going back over the audio recordings I made, and in doing so, had an epiphany about the work. I realize that I have no choice but to go back to India, and capture more audio, this time with an expanded kit. And to dedicate much more time and effort into making quality environmental recordings.
Audio recordings offer a taste of reality that video and photography simply cannot touch. Where video has to be constructed to make a compelling presentation, and photography provides specificity, and depth, that depth is within just that contextual intimacy.
Audio offers a living reality of time based exploration. Audio treats the consciousness to a wide layered mental vision, one that the mind is intrinsically connected to, there is no learning to listen, whereas there is learning to read photographs.

This Location Sound during the Anup Jalota concert at Pilot Baba’s Ashram camp 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela, Sangam Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh India. I had decided to walk around the sector 9 area where the ashram was located, about 7 miles from the actual main bathing area.
You can hear all of the local sounds, and the far distant sounds of the millions (130,000,000 to be more accurate) of pilgrims who existed at the ‘city’. Headphones highly recommended. Sit back and enjoy the Mela as I did for thirteen minutes.

End of Maha Kumbh Mela & Beginning of Varanasi

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Second Half of Maha Kumbh Mela 2013 -No Captions

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Maha Kumbh Mela 2

Tribal woman at her tent the night before the big bathe on the 15th
A tarp tent houses a camp of babas.
Tibetan holyman poses for the camera with his Baba and Guru.
Pilgrim with his Baba
Mad Max Apocalypse Now
A veritable army of civil workers cleaned up during the night at Kumbh Mela. This was a basket of Lye plonked on the ground at strategic points to be later swept.
A pilgrim at Kumbh Mela


Maha Kumbh Mela

After coming to Varanasi and being here for a few days, looking back at Kumbh is like rubbing your tongue in the hole left by a pulled tooth. Kumbh is a distant memory, every white person in Varanasi has because we all bailed at the same time. The build up to, then the event and the aftermath we all seem to have similar sentiment towards it, ‘meh’ and apt American word for ‘yeah been there done that…Next!’. Im glad I went, Im glad I saw it, but Im left with a distinct sense of dissatisfaction.

The Kumbh authorities and organizers out-did themselves in terms of putting this unprecedented event together. 120,000,000 people in a 56 square mile area of Indian military engineering mastery; supplying fresh filtered water to everyone, workable roads paved in steel plate, and pontoon bridges, and the policing of such, and the refreshing level of sanitation, litter control and basic but fully functional hygiene and the army of workers who provided it was completely impressive.

The first time I stepped out of the Kumbh grounds I was approached by two students from Allahabad University who were conducting a detailed survey for non Indian travelers and what we thought of the event. The questions themselves were somewhat revealing in that they were asking a lot about what we thought about the administration of the event and whether or not it had much of an impact on us (yes it did), and whether or not we felt more devout about the high levels of celebrity Baba’s and whether or not they needed the level of coverage and pomp they received (no they didnt).

I went to see what millions and millions of people would look like and to feel the presence of such levels of humanity in my face, and the the most part the benevolence of the Indians meant that it was a peaceful affair. Everyone was on vacation, or were there in devotion and to seek enlightenment from their Baba and to bathe in the sacred Ganga, and to take little bottles of it home for their shrines.

The people that impressed me the most were the blue-collar workers, not necessarily only the lower caste, but the people who had put their lives on hold to go.

The Baba’s were a mix of the high profile dicks with their giant self promoting posters plastered everywhere expressing hollow and borrowed promises to their followers, then there were the smaller Baba’s who had less money prowess and smaller numbers of devotees and offered rudimentary accommodations in the shape of thatched huts with straw beds or tents with straw floor coverings, and then the lowest levels of Baba’s who had nothing but their meagre paraphernalia, a tarp and some pillows to offer their flock to come pray in front of a cleansing fire. And maybe share some of their hashish.

Then there are the various levels of holy men, most of which blend into one another without much of a difference in their ways, some stand out;
The humbleness of the Brahmen monks and their generosity is breathtaking. They are the ones who shave their heads and mark their forheads with stripes and lines, wear orange and carry with them a sick which has a small roof attached so they always have a place to stay. They fed me good food and asked only to be photographed. I would later meet the same Brahman in the chaotic twisted streets of Varanasi where he recognized me and gave me blessing.
Ahgori’s who relish death and devote themselves to it, who eat the flesh of the dead to consume death, they (of course) wear black, and have some party piece like bones or a skull to embellish themselves with a talisman. Later I would find out that they usually have to get mangled on whiskey before they can perform their flesh eating rituals..
Then there were the Naga’s. They are the renounciates, the ones who are naked, and cover themselves in ash and wear marigolds around their necks, and paint their faces and look like something from a White Zombie album cover.. They are also the ones everyone wants to photograph because they are the most outgoing and flamboyant, they are also the most conceited and have been known to smash a camera if you make a picture and dont pay for it. Asshole celebrity photographers have ruined for everyone including non photographers who want to follow their beliefs because the Naga’s know that they are currency in of themselves. I still managed to get the best shots of them on their way to the bathing just because I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The Maha Kumbh Mela is more about show and pomp now then it could have been back in 2001. I saw awesome arrays of film making equipment with cranes and dollies and entire film crews squabbling with each other over locations.

Then the rain came, a giant storm, so much rain, and wind that smashed and destroyed anything up to 60% of the grounds. Some say it was an act of god, and how it would wash away the pomp and leave the devout. Im not going to argue with that.

20130213-14 First Night and Full Day at Maha Kumbh Mela

Pilgrims wait by the entrance to an Ashram looking for a place to settle for their time at the Kumbh
Tribal Pilgrim women gather around a straw fire outside one of millions of Army tents pitched outside of ashrams at Maha Kumbh Mela.
Keeping warm is key at night for me it was warm for them it was freezing.
Basic water supply was available all over the Kumbh grounds for pilgrims to avail of for drinking, cooking and washing.
A family had gathered under a wall-less army marquee in an un marked area of the Kumbh, they beckoned me to come in a make pictures of their children.
A pilgrim wanted me to make a picture of him at Kumbh, he has no way of contacting me for his image. I dont believe the man could write or read, despite the language barrier we had a good conversation.
A man rests under a tarpaulin, to escape the direct heat of the Maha Kumbh Mela Sun.
Commerce on the grounds of the Kumbh for pilgrims. This fruit and vegetable seller on the corner of the ‘block’ had better ssaled then those in the middle of the block.
Boy Scouts of india, filled in for the Police to aide and give directions. This is a map of the grounds, from what I gathered later on, the grounds were approximately 56 sq miles.
Clothing Logos in India are just that Logos, they mean nothing and mostly say nothing intelligible and all are in embroidered in English. I found this one on a chai seller, particularly hilarious..
A bicycle would have been great at the Kumbh before the storm.
Brahman Pilgrims circle and pray around a giant charnel temple, built by hand on the grounds. This was one of three that I could see, a fire is lit inside and the smoke is teh cleansing. Behind this was about 100 single person wooden pyramids where the monks chanted Om and the harmonics amplify the flames.
Millions of army tents covered the Kumbh grounds outside of the Ashrams.
Pilgrims walk around the fire temple with offerings.
Reflections in a sewer pond opposite the Fire temple. You are never far away from food and sewage in India.
A single monk sits by the corner of a field of “personal” chanting pyramids.
Yours truly. Photo by Tim Durkan.
A mystical figure in a back alley near my Ashram at Maha Kumbh Mela.
A family gathers around a straw fire to chat and socialize, outside of their tent.
An entire village of people who came from the south built their own village complete with village square, where the met fed along the tents and the women fed by the fire. They graciously let me in to make images of their life at Maha Kumbh Mela
Matriarchs of the village, ushered us in and offered us food at Maha Kumbh Mela.
Another tall mystical figure floated by me without a sound in the darkness at Maha Kumbh Mela.


From Lucknow to Maha Kumbh Mela 2013

I think this is the only shot I took in Lucknow. It was straight off the plane and into the hands of a bunch of 20 something white people who navigated the financials with a taxi driver to take us on the “2.5” hour drive to Allahabad which ended up being 5.5 hours. There were 5 of us in the car, 2 russians 2 yanks and an Austrian. The russians were a Teacher~Learner Combo the austrian was an intellectual student and then there was me and Charlie.
The landscape up here is quite different to Goa, but not insanely different, the views from the car window were very serene the kind of image of India Id expected to see when I first got here. Unfortunately I had no time to get out and shoot any images. However every 30 minutes there was a small town and though similar they were all different. I wont know what the names of them ar until I have a better connection and the time to go through my GPS and google earth..
This town apparently doesnt like cars..
20 minute cram job traffic jam where EVERYone sits on the car horn whilst waiting for something they have zero control over -the train- passes through. –note the guy in the middle of the pic taking a piss! This is something I will miss back in the US, just being able to whip it out like we were kids in Ireland and take a whizz behind a bush or do it india Style and just letter rip in full view..
The first view I had of the Ganga river (Ganges) was through the linearity of the passing two dimensional stage sets that are life as you you drive by in a car..
Mother Ganga, this is one of 20 or so pontoon bridges built by the Army Core of Engineers a long time ago, they are still as functional as they were back whenever they were built, and they provide a striking visual narrative to traversing this giant river.
My first visual exploration of my Ashram or Camp was to not shoot it but to shoot out the back and see whats over the wall.. MILLIONS of heavy canvas army tents provided for free to anyone who wants to use them. Straw floors, a trench for shit and piss, and a faucet for every 50 tents. Functional and luxury for some. I saw some families inside these tents with their own lamps and fired going inside the tents, the tent material is a very heavy oiled canvas with moisture inside. theres a small flap for a vent which is completely ineffectual, but to locals that level of smoke is acceptable.
In stark contrast, my room, has power, two lights, three mattresses and a flushing non indian style toilet and hot and cold water… I feel a bit of a fraud having this luxury but since the storms hit I feel ok about being a fraud.
The fisrt thing I see the morning of the 13th. The color is so intense that even in shade the camera cant even begin to describe the colors accurately.
The crowd at this years Mela is varied..
This is a typical Ashram entrance, the workmanship is impressive, some of these things are 40 stories hight and are made from relief painted canvas stretched over intricate bamboo infrastructure. The work is really amazing. This particular one is all of the above plus sculpted polystyrene.
Lunch was very kindly provede by the Brahman monks who sit on mats in rows and are given plates made from banana leaves which are stitched together with twigs, and then steam pressed to look like prison plates!!! and these are amazing, completely biodegradable and for all you wankers out there organic too. This chap definitely wanted to have his picture taken and after I did he arranged for us to get dinner. After the meal the monks are handed 10 Rupee notes as a blessing, and I expected that Id have to pay so I offered and I got laughed it by 200 monks!
This is the brahman guru and his sadhu who fed us. He recently had a haircut and he showed me his picture in the paper pre-cut and I recon he lost about 20 years after the cut. What a sweet guy, I took a bunch of pictures for him and he was just non stop friendly.
This is one hell of a bridge.. and I have quite a few pictures of it. Taj Expressway Ring Road Bridge.
Charlie sitting in the Naga Ashram (the name fails me now), and one of the Babas sat beside us and called him “Motorcycle Baba”
Pop Corn! I swear I only saw this once in the whole time Ive been here!
Theres a lot of these guy about, I dont think they are Babas and they are not Hari Krishna
The end of the road I am on in Sector 9 on the way down to the Sangam where the bathe will occur.
The white spots are Lye placed in a wicker bascket and plonked onto the ground to deposit just enough Lye to later be swept over the ground by someone else. The sanitation and littler control at the Kumbh is extremely impressive. Everything is done by hand, and every road is taken care of at night.
Taj Expressway Ring Road Bridge.
A fortune teller. The bird comes out of the cage and picks a card, and that card has your fortune on it. He gets the bird back in the cage by reaching around the back of the cage and pretending to feed it. Its impressive.
The other famous bridge here is the railway bridge.. ohh if I could only get on top of that thing the image possibility would be incredible.. Its clearly a lot older then the other bridge as its redbrick. I dont know what its called but a name I found is Jhusi Railway..
Nice handwriting
Baba 1008 and the rest I cant even begin to spell or pronounce. His thing is peace and divinity through self awareness and his party trick is to drink out of a Human skull. These guys are all show men no doubt about it even though they say they are not.. He was a very nice guy a friend of Charlies, and he introduced me to two college professors who would like to work with me in the future.. !
And then there are the complete show queens..