The Maha Kumbh festival is held in the city of Allahabad, India every twelve years where sadhus and saints from all the sects converge. During this festival there are a few auspicious days where these saints go for a ‘Holy dip’ in the River Ganges. The image you see is of the Naga (naked) Sadhu sect coming back from the dip. Naga Sadhus are followers of and also known as the representatives of Lord Shiva. They can be distinguished by long knotted hair and their naked bodies which are covered in holy ash (known as Vibhuti). Sadhus and yogis are categorized into various lots (known as Akhadas) just like army regiments. You will see some of them holding weapons such as spears, swords, sticks and tridents. These are symbols of their identity.
I had arrived in Allahabad for ten days with the aim of capturing their masses and had the chance of spending a night amongst them to get to know them better. It was an experience of a lifetime to be right in the middle of thousands of nude sadhus walking in a procession. It was 5:30 am when I was woken by the head saint of the tent I was sleeping in to be a part of the process. I started photographing them before sunrise; I saw how some of them were disrobed and the holy ash was rubbed on their bodies before joining the procession. This scene which you see was at 8:00 am towards the end of the morning when they were converging in their central square for their final prayers before going back to their respective homes.
For a shoot like this I usually carry two lenses, a 24-70mm f2.8 and a 70-200 f2.8 telephoto zoom. They are attached on two separate bodies as there is no time to change lenses and at times it can get very dusty, too. Being a part of this process, I wanted the essence of the procession; the color, the strength and the faith. I had only one shot at this as the next wait was another twelve years. After the Sadhus had left for their holy dip, instead of following them to the river I decided to come back and wait at this spot to capture this moment. When the time came, I had my 5D Mark III with the 24-70mm attached and on hand. This shot was taken at 35mm, shutter speed set at 1/400 with an f-stop of 7.1 as I needed some depth of field and overall sharpness is better at this sweet spot of aperture. When photographing in the morning with rapidly changing light one has to be careful to keep adjusting the ISO, f-stop and shutter speed, as well. – Ranjan Ramchandani
Equipment and settings: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L zoom lens – 1/400th at f/7.1, ISO 500