Devotees deconstructing the chariot as the procession concludes.
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Glastonbury Rathyatra – The Only Chariot Festival of 2020 – By Sagar Kharecha

March 10, 2021

One late evening my father received a call from ‘Mahaprabhu Dasa’, a stalwart devotee. Mahaprabhu informed us that a ‘Rathyatra’ would soon take place in Glastonbury town centre on 11th October. The risk assessment had been approved, and arrangements were made. Having developed a love for spiritual and communal expression in documenting my local temple, a forgotten sense of joy soon returned to me.

Places of worship remained restricted, and large gatherings banned. After covering long periods of violence, chaos and apathy, here finally was some relief. Such an occasion may not return for another five or ten years given the current circumstances.

Mahaprabhu Dasa, a worldy devotee points towards the Rathyatra

Mahaprabhu Dasa.

‘Rathyatra’ describes a chariot procession in which deities are ceremoniously paraded within a given route. Devotees and the public alike pull upon the chariot, sweep the road ahead, serve offered food to one another, whilst others remain transfixed in song and dance throughout. A Rathyatra requires community participation in order to properly serve its spiritual function. With the decimation of community and religious events, I was eager to re-engage in my practice.

Devotees and the public alike pull upon the chariot, sweep the road ahead.

Pulling the chariot is an arduous task.

Already deeply literate with religious paraphernalia and customs, my primary focus was on spiritual expression and its interaction within the context of British culture. Glastonbury has been considered a significantly spiritual area for thousands of years, intersecting with multitudes of faiths through millenia in a kaleidoscopic fashion. The High Street is inundated with New Age shops; a tall chariot carrying obscure deities does not look out of place.

Devotees sing and dance through Glastonbury Highstreet, which itself is inundated with New Age shops.

Singing and dancing through Glastonbury town High Street.

With regards to equipment, I use a Nikon F2, HP5+ (often pushed), 24mm f/2.8 & 50mm f/1.8. The 24mm f/2.8 was used for the majority of this day with HP5+ @800. Wide and fast, it allowed for playfulness in moments rich with deep personal meaning. Soon emerged a feeling of bliss -or flow state. Shooting became dream-like. The dissolution of tension and anxiety brought greater confidence, sensitivity, synchronicity. Everything falls into place. It is an optimal, spiritual experience.

A scene rich with deep personal meaning.

Everything falls into place.

As the chariot procession concluded, devotees scaled Glastonbury Tor to honour the sunset in their own way. Upon the summit a heady mix of sweet melodies, scents, and sunlight permeated the senses. A rare phenomenon enveloped me, whereby the experience outside of the viewfinder was just as valuable as the photograph. I still feel it now. Such feelings could not further emphasise the importance of community.

Devotees gather at the summit of Glastonbury Tor at sunset.

Upon the summit.

If I could change anything from that day I would ask for more time and proximity. We had a long drive back and Mahaprabhu Dasa maintains an uncompromising routine with his deities at home. 24mm was the right choice, allowing for some much needed respite. Film was the right choice to match high challenges with equal efficacy in order to cultivate a blissful state of flow.

Scents, sounds and sunlight develops into a potent mix upon the summit.

Much needed respite.

Glastonbury Rathyatra remains a pivotal moment in my life. On low days through each consecutive lockdown I close my eyes and return to that hill. I sincerely look forward to the full reopening of community spaces, religious and otherwise. Whenever the next Rathyatra is organised I shall be there, and I hope you are too.

Devotees each in a trance pose in various ways.

I close my eyes and return to that hill.

I develop my negatives with Ilford Microphen stock solution, which provides an increase in film speed and maintains neutral contrast without introducing further grain – perfect characteristics for my approach.

Contact sheet detailing 1 of the 2 rolls shot during Glastonbury Rathyatra.

Ilford HP5+ @800. Microphen stock solution.

Thanks so much for reading about my experience! You can also find me via @newexitgroup

Work produced from this Rathyatra will contribute towards the next project with my collective, New Exit Group. You can find our debut zine, BARDO, which documents the turbulent summer of 2020 at newexitgroup.com/print
At time of writing signed copies are almost sold out, so act fast!

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Marco
    March 10, 2021 at 6:22 pm

    Nice post.
    I am intrigued by the Mahaprabhu Dasa image.
    Can you share some insights on how you did it?
    Being very near to him, did you focus in advance? was it luck or were you prepared to shoot? were you interacting with him?

    • Reply
      Sagar Kharecha
      March 10, 2021 at 7:06 pm

      Hi Marco,
      I had the 24mm on at approximately f/11 or so. He approached my father to the left of me. I quickly debated the value of his face versus his pointing gesture. He was aware of the camera but preoccupied with another matter. When I’m not engaged with the viewfinder, I reset focus to infinity so I only have to work backwards. In this way I am prepared for luck!

  • Reply
    Barry reid
    March 11, 2021 at 9:11 am

    A very enjoyable post, the considered placement of the sun in the frame works well carried across a number of the shots. Thanks for sharing, it reminds us of the type of events wehope to see more of in the coming year.

    • Reply
      Sagar Kharecha
      March 11, 2021 at 9:31 am

      Thank you for the kind words, Barry. I enjoy the use of sun flare when composing, especially with its divine connotations. Yes indeed, very hopeful that we’ll experience a great Summer of reunion and celebration.

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