December 27, 2012 | 8:37am
In 2001, twentysomething Nicole Jaquis, who'd grown up down here in Wellington and then moved to Boston, left her job and joined some friends who were making a documentary in India about the Kumbh Mela
-- one of the biggest gatherings on planet Earth, which you've probably never heard of.
After living there for about four months, and watching about 70 million people come down to bathe peacefully together in the Ganges River for the purification ritual, Jaquis was hooked. Though she came back to the States, and worked in New York City as a web designer and teaching multimedia to kids, she kept venturing back to India.
About three years ago, she headed over again -- it was supposed to be for a year, but she hasn't come back since. She's volunteering as a teacher and started her own organization, Ascetics with Cameras
, that gives cameras to women who often have no documentation of their families or culture. Some have never seen a photo of themselves. They are often photographed by tourists and National Geographic shutterbugs, but until now, never had the power to create or control images for themselves.
Jaquis says it more eloquently in her mission statement:
"It is our mission to not only provide multimedia tools to document and preserve the living-histories of the traditional authorities of Sanatan Dharma, but more importantly to train the members (of the oldest and largest order of Dasnaami Hindu ascetics) to document it for themselves. Giving them the skills to share with the world the stories and aspects of their culture they find important, will empower these ascetics to participate in the process of media-making to which their Akhara has been subject for centuries and enlighten audiences to the sacred, ancient paths and esoteric traditions of truth seekers."
Send working cameras to
RAJESH KUMAR SHUKLA, ADVOCATE ( ascetics with cameras )
174 GANGOTRI COLONY,
HAWELIA JHUNSI, ALLAHABAD, U. P. PIN-211019 INDIA
Mo. No. + 91 9451321801
The 2013 Kumbh Mela begins January 27, so hustle to the post office.
The women will send you a free print of a photo as a thank you. They will probably also give you some blessings. Jaquis told me, "This is what yogis, sanyasini, sadhus do, they give blessings. Om namo narayan, from all of us."