Photo story: Gangasagar Mela

[Please see the amazing pictures in full screen]

On the southern coast of Sagar, a large river island at the sangama (holy confluence) of river Ganga and sagara (the sea: Bay of Bengal/ Indian Ocean), lies Gangasagar, a fishing village. Its quiet shores and the Kapila Muni Temple thereon come to life once a year during Makara Sankranti, when several hundred thousand Hindu pilgrims – mostly rustic folk from obscure towns and villages across the Indian subcontinent – pour in. Vendors, ascetics, mendicants, volunteers and officials join their march.

The crowd put up on the beach; cook, eat, buy, sell, sing, dance, worship, gossip, promise, expiate… and take the purificatory dip in the holy waters of the Sangama. Then they retrace their steps to their faraway homes, but not before they have had the time of their lives, even amidst absolute bedlam.

Gangasagar Mela is one of the largest and oldest annual congregations of mankind. The event has fascinated the pious Hindus since the days of the Mahabharata. Even during my first visit to the fair about fifteen years ago, I realised that very few things epitomize India as quintessentially as the Gangasagar Mela. I have been to the fair fairly regularly ever since, following its course through a period of history when that quintessential Indian way of thinking and living faced unprecedented challenges, owing to globalization, cyber revolution, and the like.

Quite inevitably, during that period, some features of the landscape and the traditions of the fair underwent such modifications that at times they seem almost unrecognizable from the past. That rapidly vanishing Sagar Mela of old has never been comprehensively represented in visual media either. Hence this photo-essay.  

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