In India there are uncountable religious festivals, drawing in devotees, pilgrims and other people from all walks of life, in uncountable numbers. One such is encountered at Pushkar, in Rajasthan, a desert state. From all over India and elsewhere, hundreds of thousands gather at the full moon in November, around a temple dedicated to Brahma, the creator in Indian cosmology. It is said to be the only such temple in all India, and is sited in the centre of the village.
The largest gathering of humans on earth is the Khumb Mela at Allahabad where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet with a third mythical one, the Saraswati. Confluences of rivers are regarded as sacred locations to commemorate such events in some way, the world over, and islands within them even more so, (look at Westminster Abbey and Notre Dame for immediate examples). As with all ancient celebrations, there is a connection to celestial events such as a full moon, midsummer or midwinter, an eclipse, or a conjunction of stars. These were observable predictable events over which we have no control, but taken as portents of future fortunes, harvests, births marriages and deaths.
Rivers in desert areas would be highly valued but of course they are also rare and often ephemeral, but a reliable water source such as at Pushkar Lake would draw people from a wide area. These gatherings inevitably prove valuable occasions to trade, buying and selling everything from food, cloth, icons, fairground rides, souvenirs, balloons and livestock. Camels feature strongly in the Pushkar markets along with oxen and horses, it has become known for the glorious diversity of people in Northern India. and attracts visitors from all over the world.
For most of the year, Pushkar remains a quiet and relaxing place, with an atmosphere that feels like a welcoming respite from the sometimes overwhelming experience of India. I have read a description of India as “Five thousand years of poetry and no two lines rhyme”. For most western visitors, it is good, indeed necessary, to find some unfettered psychological space to absorb and in some way try to understand the myriad threads running through time and space in this country. Pushkar is just such a place, along with Goa on the West coast, and Dharamsala in the Himalayan foothills.
Young entrepreneurs have homed in on this unusual lacuna of peace set in the craggy dry Aravalli hills, catering to all (vegetarian) tastes. There are, of course a few westerners who merely relish the chance to get stoned in a welcoming atmosphere, but many more are entranced by details overlooked in places heaving with diversions, or by the sunset across the lake with goatskin drums pattering away rhythmically to seal the day. Others become absorbed in the circuit of temples in and around the village, gleaning a sense of the deep spirituality in Hindu society. I spent a night in a tent in a small compound opposite one such temple, totally mesmerised by the near continuous chanting of scripture from within.
The marvel of Pushkar of course is the capacity of a small village to recreate itself annually in the festival. It is a goldmine for photography, with striking landscapes all around, with little vignettes of day to day life appearing around every corner. Most arresting is the riot of colour and camaraderie that infuses the excited crowds moving like lava through the alleyways, skirting holy cows, occasional horses and street dogs avoiding the melee in some quiet corner. This is a big event for villagers who may have travelled for days to reach here at the most auspicious time, and also an excursion that will be relished, recounted and retold for many months to come. What things we saw ! What food we had ! What a laugh we had when we set up camp near to those people from Jaipur !
A place of fabulous experiences.