Portra​its of Naga​ - A photo essay by Saify Naqvi

Community - A Group of Naga Sadhu enjoying a Chillum
February 12, 2013 /Photography News/ Hinduism is a religious phenomenon based on Vedic traditions. It is the oldest and third largest religion in the world and the most followed religion in India. Maha (Great) Kumbh is an event that takes places at the Triveni Sangam (the Tri Confluence) of the three holy rivers:  Ganges, Yamuna and the now extinct Vedic river Saraswati. It is the largest and the oldest celebration of Hindu rituals anywhere in the world. Geologists believe the Saraswati dried up approximately four thousand years ago. Given the centrality of the river Saraswati to this festival, its can only be estimated how old the festival actually is. The oldest non-Vedic written account of Maha Kumbh is from mid 600 AD by the Chinese traveller Tsang Huan, who travelled across India from 629-645 CE. Maha Kumbh is also the biggest gathering of humanity anywhere on the planet with an estimated 100 million people expected to take the holy dip at the confluence propelled by the religious belief of Moksha (Nirvana) to the faithful. 

Deep Breath - A Naga Sadhu blows smoke after a Chillum
Vishnu the supreme Godhead in Hindiusm spilled amrita (nectar of immortality) at four location in India and the stage for the Kumb Mela was set. The narration of the incident figures in more than five millenia old Vedic records. Kumbh is a Sanskrit term which literally translate to 'Urn'. Mela is the Sankrit term that refers to a gathering or fair. Kumbh Mela is organised at those four locations where Vishnu, according to the Vedic literature, had spilled amrita. Every third years by rotation one of the four holiest cities of the Hindus in India hosts the Kumbh Mela. The four cities are Nashik, Ujjain, Haridwar and Prayag.

New Blood - A newly ordained Naga Sadhu

Reflection - Two Naga Sadhu walk past each other
Kumbha Mela: Held at all four places, by rotation every three years.
Ardha (Half) Kumbha Mela: Held at Haridwar and Prayag, every 6 years.
Purna (Full) Kumbha Mela: Held only at Prayag, every 12 years.
Maha (Great) Kumbha Mela: Held only at Prayag, every 144 years.

Well began… A Nagu Sadhu lights up a Chillum
This is the year of Maha Kumbh Mela at Prayaga. This event will be organized again in the year 2157. Every Kumbh mela sociologists, theologians, anthropologists and the world media gather to witness the magic of faith. Every individual who is not drawn by the the belief of Moksha is keen to understand what draws so many people together. The answer still is the power of faith. Hinduism perhaps is one of the most complex religions, since it was not meant to be a religion. Its is quite possible that in the millennium since the oldest of the Vedic scriptures were written the phenomenon took religious connotations and became a full fledged faith with the Bhagavad Gita as its codified guiding principles. The complexity and diversity of Hinduism is best witnessed at the Maha Kumbh. Maha Kumbh is the coming together of three distinct branches of Hinduism: Shramanism, Brahamanism and Theism. 'Sharama or in Sanskrit Śramaṇa refer to renunciate ascetic traditions from the middle of the 1st millennium BCE.They were individual, experiential and free-form traditions, independent of society; and in religious competition with Brahmin priests, who as opposed to Shramanas, stressed on mastery of texts and performing rituals.'

Deeper in to the trance - A Naga Sadhu enjoy a Chillum
Naga Sadhus follow the Sramana philosophy. They follow Lord Shiva - the destroyer, they carry weapons, are dressed in nothing but sport long hair and beards. Individuals who volunteer to be Naga Sadhus are ordained at a young age, they are provided formal education or vedic education or sometimes a combination of both. Young Nagas are allowed their lower body with lion cloth and the upper body with a thin hand woven cotton sheet. They can continue to wear these clothes till they are comfortable wearing nothing. 

This is collection of 'Portraits of Naga' Sadhu shot at the Maha Kumbh 2013. The complete series can be viewed here

Sources: Wikipedia; Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism

Author's Bio-Philosophy:

Saify studied at the Edinburgh University in Scotland, he is an ex investment banker and now a concept and travel photographer. India is the sole subject which binds his entire body of work. With India as a broad subject he works on many themes which showcases specific elements of India. His work is an attempt to show case india's diversity, vibrance, culture and its natural beauty. Each moment captures a very strong spiritual connection that he feels with India. So far he has found inspiration in Allahabad, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Spiti, Ladhak, Varanasi, Delhi and Dharamsala.

You can see his work on ; on his facebook fan page or follow him on twitter @naqvisaify.

Previously Published work:
1) Dharamsala the Tibet Connection - Pages 40-57
2) Spiti- Natures Bounty in Himachal Pradesh - Pages 14-33


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