In the heart of Northern India, where the Ganges, Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati rivers converge, lies a sacred spectacle of faith and humanity that defies imagination – the Kumbh Mela. It was the year 2019 when I embarked on a journey that would forever change my perspective on culture, spirituality, and the immense power of human connection.
With a deep-rooted passion for documentary film and photography, I have always sought to explore diverse cultures. The Kumbh Mela, however, was more than just a cultural encounter. It was my first journey to India, a country I have long dreamed of visiting. Residing amidst Singapore’s bustling urban landscape, where crowds were a daily companion, I thought I understood congestion in the real sense. However, my perspective shifted dramatically as I embraced the vibrance of the Kumbh Mela which made Singapore’s hustle a distant memory.
The Kumbh Mela, often referred to as the world’s largest gathering of humanity, is a mass Hindu pilgrimage held once every 12 years. The sheer magnitude of the event is awe-inspiring, with an Ardha Kumbh Mela occurring every six years in between. This monumental gathering is not merely a religious festival; it is an experience deeply intertwined with the cultural and spiritual fabric of India. It is also worth noting that it is recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
In 2019, the Kumbh Mela took place in Allahabad, a city nestled at the confluence of the three sacred rivers – the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati. For Hindus, this represents a powerful symbol of spirituality, a place where the divine energy flows unceasingly. Pilgrims from all corners of the country and beyond gather here with a singular purpose – to cleanse themselves of sins and attain Moksha, the liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
As I set foot in Allahabad, my anticipation turned to awe as I gazed upon the convergence of nature, humanity, and faith. It was beyond my wildest expectations. Every moment etched a new story, and every smile offered a connection beyond borders. The diversity of faces, the multiplicity of ages, and the stories woven together in this celebration of harmony were simply overwhelming. Navigating this sacred gathering on my own, I found myself completely immersed in the grand spectacle.
One of the most exhilarating experiences for me was witnessing gravity-defying stunts at the Wall of Death. It was a testament to the incredible skills and fearless spirit of the people I encountered at the Kumbh Mela. However, the most transformative experience occurred when I joined the throngs of pilgrims in the sacred waters. Surrounded by 40 to 50 million people, I felt a sense of unity and shared purpose that transcended language, culture, and nationality. The water was not just a physical medium but a conduit for spiritual purification and a symbol of the shared belief that we were all part of something greater than ourselves.
The Kumbh Mela was a living, breathing testament to the warmth and hospitality of the Indian people. Amidst these warm and welcoming people, I felt the heartbeat of a culture unlike any I have encountered, breaking down the barriers of language and nationality. I realised that the soul of India was not just a metaphorical expression; it was a tangible presence that pulsed through the people and the land.
In those moments, as I looked through the lens of my camera, I saw the essence of the Kumbh Mela unfold before me. It was a tapestry of vibrant colors, a symphony of sounds, and a dance of emotions. As I reflect on my time at Kumbh Mela in 2019, I remember how it was otherworldly, like a scene from a film. Those words, though simple, encapsulate the profound impact this experience had on me. It was a journey beyond the ordinary, a pilgrimage of the soul, and a celebration of the human spirit.
In these frames, the heart of the Kumbh Mela beats – an echo of a once-in-a-lifetime experience woven from the threads of culture, people, and travel. It is a story that I am honoured to have witnessed and a memory that will forever be etched in my memory and my photographs.
About José Jeuland
Founder, Photographer & Art Director, COCO Creative Studio, Singapore
José Jeuland is a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience in the world of photography and videography with his expertise honed over the years. Having embarked on an atypical journey as a professional triathlete at 25 by taking part in various international competitions, little did he know that this globe-trotting lifestyle would fuel an appetite for documenting lesser-known cultures worldwide and inspire him to begin his journey as a professional photographer.
José’s distinctive style shines through in his portrait photography, which remains a hallmark of his craft. His expertise in this genre is evident in his captivating street, travel, and documentary photography. Some of his remarkable works, such as the photography exhibitions “Haenyeo” and “Longevity Okinawa,” garnered immense attention when showcased at The Fullerton Hotel in Singapore. His work has also received widespread acclaim and has been featured in prestigious international publications like National Geographic.
However, José’s talent is not just limited to portrait photography or exhibitions, as he has undertaken a multitude of projects for clients spanning diverse industries. From advertising and commercial photography to corporate headshots, lifestyle photography, and even video production, Jose offers an exceptional range of services through his venture, COCO Creative Studio in Singapore.