Kings with Straw Mats

Kings with Straw Mats

This is a film made at the largest gathering of people in the world, the Kumbha Mela, held in 1985 at Haridwar in northern India.

The film was made by Ira Cohen, one of the great poets and film-makers working from the 1960s onwards, who only recently passed away (in 2011).

Cohen was living in Kathmandu when he heard that the 3-yearly Kumbha Mela would take place that year in Haridwar, so he grabbed a camera, some friends and headed down to record it.

Along with video of some of the yogis and sadhus at the festival, Cohen reads his poetic reflections of the event, and the outcome is very evocative.

Extreme asceticism, of which this is exemplary, was known also in the Buddha’s time, and was indeed practised by the Bodhisatta, but it is one thing to read about in the discourses, and another to see it as a living tradition.

The film follows different groups of sadhus, some co-operative, some bemused. The culture they represent is part of the backdrop against which Buddhism developed, and against which it preached.

For the faint-hearted I suppose I should mention that there are many scenes of male nudity in the film, and often engaging their organs strenuously.


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