Ancient rituals face new realities on India’s holy Yamuna River.

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By Mili Paul

Travel Photographer

27 Jul 2018 - 4 Minute Read

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Delhi’s sacred Yamuna river is one of my favorite places during the winter season. I was born and brought up here, and still enjoy the chaos and changes of this diverse and cosmopolitan city. The atmosphere along the river bank is full of peace and spirituality along with our migratory winter guests, Siberian gulls, covering the whole sky. 

Every weekend bird lovers, travelers, and photographers gather here in large numbers before first light to witness the drama of birds above Yamuna. The place is divine, as lots of Hindu rituals are performed on various auspicious occasions. Hence, the Yamuna bank is very rich in culture and character.

But the holy river is getting more polluted every minute, and this is the saddest concern. As a photo artist, it’s my duty to bring out the real story through my images.

In Hindu mythology, bathing in Yamuna’s holy waters is considered to rid you of your sins. A devotee takes a dip in the water despite the fact that the river also doubles as a sewage dump for the city’s waste. This offers an insight into the place it has in people’s hearts.
Mili Paul
In Hindu mythology, bathing in Yamuna’s holy waters is considered to rid you of your sins. A devotee takes a dip in the water despite the fact that the river also doubles as a sewage dump for the city’s waste. This offers an insight into the place it has in people’s hearts.
On the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankranti, the Hindu New year, women perform the festival rituals after taking a dip in the river at the banks in Delhi. All orthodox devotees have continued these traditions for ages, despite the river’s grim conditions.
Mili Paul
On the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankranti, the Hindu New year, women perform the festival rituals after taking a dip in the river at the banks in Delhi. All orthodox devotees have continued these traditions for ages, despite the river’s grim conditions.
Another integral part of the religion is “Mundan,” or head shaving. It’s a prominent ritual often conducted on the banks of a holy river. Here, a barber can be seen performing this ceremony along the Yamuna. With no fixed premises for his business, he carries it out wherever he can.
Mili Paul
Another integral part of the religion is “Mundan,” or head shaving. It’s a prominent ritual often conducted on the banks of a holy river. Here, a barber can be seen performing this ceremony along the Yamuna. With no fixed premises for his business, he carries it out wherever he can.
The Yamuna, one India’s holiest rivers, has recently gained notoriety as one of the most polluted, too. But this hasn’t affected the annual migration of gulls from Siberia, which lights up the banks of the river and attracts photo enthusiasts who come to cherish this sight.
Mili Paul
The Yamuna, one India’s holiest rivers, has recently gained notoriety as one of the most polluted, too. But this hasn’t affected the annual migration of gulls from Siberia, which lights up the banks of the river and attracts photo enthusiasts who come to cherish this sight.
However, some people can sense the grave danger that the river is facing. Sikandar baba, who you can see riding his handmade raft made from discared rubbish, is one of them. He not only cleans the river by collecting waste and other non-biodegradable items, but also makes a living by selling this waste.
Mili Paul
However, some people can sense the grave danger that the river is facing. Sikandar baba, who you can see riding his handmade raft made from discared rubbish, is one of them. He not only cleans the river by collecting waste and other non-biodegradable items, but also makes a living by selling this waste.

This photo essay was a finalist in the 2018 World Nomads Travel Photography Scholarship.

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Travel Photographer

Mili is a Delhi-based photo enthusiast who loves to travel places with her camera.

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