marching with the sadhus

after the sadhus finished celebrating, they lined up and began their march back to the camp, and we photographers ran alongside them. more photos from that:

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notice, in the second photo, the man in the crimson t-shirt pointing at me: this guy (who was also holding a thick, pointy bamboo staff) was one of the parade marshals/sadhu minders/akshara hangers-on with thick pointy bamboo staffs who accompanied the naga babas on the procession route.  his reaction to my taking the photo signifies the ambiguous position that we non-credentialed photographers held: the sadhus, for the most part, were happy to have their photos taken once they’d bathed in the ganges, yet we weren’t exactly supposed to be walking along the parade route with them.  i shrugged this off because i wanted the photos, but i also had no idea what was coming next.

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the heavy police presence should have been a tipoff.
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we finished the route and went down to the neighboring akshara camp to await next procession. this was the jura akshara, and the jura have a reputation as the “bad boys” of the naga babas – the most militant of the various aksharas. while the naga babas would be as happy as the previous group after they’d bathed, i was warned that some of them might be pretty keyed up beforehand; and also, that the sadhus who escort the naga babas could be rough, hitting and slapping people who get in the way of the procession. i decided to keep as far to the edge as possible.

when the procession started, everything was hectic but fluid, and i was running along with our group leader and having a great time; suddenly, i felt a hard slap to the back of my head, followed by about two more that knocked my hat off. a policeman warned me to get out of the way, so i grabbed my hat and ran; but the sadhu (it turns out) who had begun the slapping chased after me, and he continued to smack me in the head.  my glasses went flying into the crowd; one of the lenses popped out into the tangle of people, and that was that – until one of the ladies in the crowd found the lens.  i jammed it back into the glasses frame and ran off after the naga babas again.  it ain’t a kumbh mela until you’ve been smacked in the head, and besides, you have to get the photos, right?

not everyone was serious – some of these guys were posing for the cameras, and the one to the far right was throwing flowers into the crowd – but the two sadhus in the bottom photographs clearly weren’t going to take any nonsense from us.  the photographer in the orange robe (to the left of the dancing naga baba) was probably trying to camouflage himself. i heard later that a photographer who disguised himself as a sadhu got smacked around pretty hard; i don’t know if this was the same guy.

next: more marching with the sadhus