Making a Splash–Scenes from the Magh Mela

Photo taken by Rajesh Kumar Singh for the AP

So, we’re in the middle of the Magh Mela, a vast pilgrimage festival for Hindus which started with Makar Sankrati on the 14th of January (you read it here first!) and ends on March 3d. There are a series of dates within that time that are the most auspicious for bathing in one of the holy rivers (you can look up the dates on www.hindupad.com/mela-fair/magh-mela-2011, which calls the occasions “holy dips”, which I just love). But really, it’s considered a good idea to immerse one’s self in a holy river at any point during this sacred time.

I learned we are in this lucky time frame when I stumbled across the above AP photo of a holy man at Sangam, where the rivers Yamuna and Ganges meet. It was taken by Rajesh Kumar Singh and it stunned me, partly because of the sweet expression on the man’s face, and partly because of the color of the tent behind him, a milky wash of blue you sometimes see on doors in Greece where the paint color is called “loulaki”.

The picture brought back memories of my own semi-holy-dip in the Ganges. I rolled up my pants and stepped in only to the knee, cowed by the joint warnings of my mother and the Lonely Planet guide, which warns that the acceptable level of  fecal coliforms per milliliter of water is 500 and the Ganges contains 1.5 million. I wish I had the faith or the antibodies to swim like the girls in the picture I took below in 2009, but I’ve had some great times in and on the Ganges despite my lame wimpiness, including filming a cameo for a Tamil language film, and unearthing clay statues of goddesses that washed up at my feet. So I’m devoting this week to posting pictures of good times on the Ganges, as a little reminder that it’s all Magh Mela, all the time.

I love a drawn-out festival, or even a somber religious observance, like Lent (which starts for Eastern Orthodox on Clean Monday, March 7, this year, and for other Christians on Ash Wednesday, March 9, 2011). And I sort of feel like I’m missing out on one major American cultural festival by not following the Superbowl. But I’m learning. I was forced to watch some football last night, and while I find the action hard to follow (why is it so different, and so much more difficult, to understand than an episode of the Real Housewives of Wherever?) I did learn a lot. I was shocked that games are played in freezing cold temperatures, for example, and that players are allowed to have long hair (it seems like an invitation to hypothermia and hair pulling, but maybe the long hair keeps them warm?). I don’t think I’ll ever turn into a Superbowl devotée (although I love a Superbowl party, particularly if it features turkey chilli), but sometimes it’s nice to watch a festival from the outside; it frees up so much time along the way not to have to understand all the nuances. I do think it might make sense to move the lead-up to the Superbowl to a warmer time of year (poor athletes! Although I guess they’re shivering all the way to the bank, or the Kardashian estate). But I suspect that would interfere with other sporting events. And also, it wouldn’t coincide with the Magh Mela!

Brave Girls in the Ganges

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