Short Cut To Nirvana: Kumbh Mela

Sacred subject matter notwithstanding, Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day's entertaining film is a surprising spiritual cousin to the so-called "mondo" movies of the '60s and '70s, dubious documentaries that traveled the globe to uncover the most bizarre cultural oddities the world had to offer. Benazzo and Day's tone, however, is always respectful, even when...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Sacred subject matter notwithstanding, Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day's entertaining film is a surprising spiritual cousin to the so-called "mondo" movies of the '60s and '70s, dubious documentaries that traveled the globe to uncover the most bizarre cultural oddities the world had to offer. Benazzo and Day's tone, however, is always respectful, even when they can't entirely disguise their own amazement. Indeed, the Hindu festival known as the Kumbh Mela is something right out of Ripley's Believe It or Not!. Every 12 years, some 70 million people gather on the triangle of land near Allahabad, India, where the sacred waters of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers converge. Though the head count varies depending on who you ask, the festival undoubtedly ranks as the largest gathering of people in history, and as it's said to have been celebrated as early as 500 BC; it's also the world's oldest ongoing religious celebration. In addition to the millions of devout pilgrims and curious tourists who swarm the dusty plain, thousands of Hindu and Buddhist spiritual leaders from all over the globe set up camp according to sect. For the next six weeks, followers can either join a particular camp or sample a variety of faiths by moving from one to another. The highlight of the Kumbh Mela, however, is the ritualistic bathing, during which wise men and disciples alike wash away their sins in the cloudy waters of the Ganges. Our proxies for the massive 2001 Kumbh Mela are two Westerners: Dyan Summers, a nurse practitioner from New York City, and her boyfriend, Justin Davis. While in India, Summers and Davis have befriended a young Hindu Monk, Swami Krishnanand, who happily agrees to guide them through the bewildering sights and sounds of the Kumbh Mela. (The bespectacled swami is clearly besotted with the fresh-faced Summers.) As they make the rounds of the camps, we're all treated to some unusual forms of religious practice: A guru dons a pair of nail-studded sandals, settles down on a suspended throne of nails and swings back and forth over a burning pit of fire. Another humbly displays the arm he's kept pointed at the sky for the past 20 years. A Japanese woman is buried alive in an underground pit for three whole days. A guru demonstrates his ability to support the weight of two men using only his penis. Toss in a snake charmer and a man eating live monkey brains and Benazzo and Day could have dubbed the whole thing "Shocking India," or better yet, "Mondo Kumbh Mela."

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Sacred subject matter notwithstanding, Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day's entertaining film is a surprising spiritual cousin to the so-called "mondo" movies of the '60s and '70s, dubious documentaries that traveled the globe to uncover the most bizarre cultur… (more)

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