Millions participate in the Kumbha Mela pilgrimage, bathing in the sacred waters of the Ganges River. Yet few outside of India are familiar with the largest human gatherings in the world, an event in which entire populace of Rome and Berlin put together participate.
James Lochtefeld, professor of religion and director of the Asian Studies Program at Carthage College, has visited India more than a dozen times and served as an academic consultant for a 2009 photo exhibit at Chicago’s renowned Field Museum intends to bring the pilgrimage to life. He has been working with the museum staff on text to compile nearly 50 dramatic photographs by Chicago-based photojournalist Jean-Marc Giboux, which documents religious processions, and the activities of worshippers, in pilgrimages since 1998.
Now the compact exhibit, which includes some of the sounds of pilgrimage, and gives a concise, colorful lesson in India’s traditional culture, can be seen through March 27 at Carthage College’s H.F. Johnson Gallery of Art.
The pilgrimage is rooted in the Hindu beliefs that gods and demons once battled over a pot (kumbha) holding the nectar of immortality. During the fight, drops of nectar fell upon the earth in four locations, which became sanctified as sites of pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is a gathering for Hindu ascetics, who have renounced conventional society to devote themselves to religious life.