I decided to catch up on some of the shows slowly accruing on my DVR… which included a BBC2 documentary about the Great Kumbh Mela, an “awe-inspiring celebration of the world’s oldest religion [which] happens every 12 years at the place where Hindus believe two sacred rivers meet. For many Hindus this is their most important pilgrimage, and it happens at one of the most holy sites in India. Hindus come to cleanse themselves in the sacred waters of the river Ganges, to pray and emerge purified and renewed.” The programme followed several UK-based believers (including a white lady who’d been staying at a yoga retreat in India) as they took in the sights, sounds and smells of the festival, before taking a dip in the Ganges… or not, as the case may be.
One of the participants was Shivali Bhammer, a former investment banker born and raised in London’s fancy-schmancy Knightsbridge area, who is now pursuing a career as a devotional singer and dancer. She’s already released two albums, The Bhajan Project and Urban Temple, which apparently went to No. 1 on the iTunes World Music chart. To quote the lady herself: “Urban Temple is a reflection of my own personal journey, merging my western background with my Indian roots. The music is the western side of my upbringing, and the lyrics are a direct result of my discovering the core of my roots and the spirituality it inspires in me. I feel truly blessed to be in this unique position and want to share it with others.”
Clips from one of her videos were shown during her introduction, and she also broke out some dance moves after encountering a group of Shiva-centric singers on the street. Obviously I’m not an expert on Indian music and movement, but I thought she had a very sweet voice, and a very graceful body… and seemed admirably un-phased while chatting with naked, ash-covered Sadhus (holy men). Unfortunately, after all the build-up (which including hiring a private boat to take her out to a quieter, cleaner section of the river), she chickened out and decided against immersing herself in the karma-cleansing waters… contenting herself with a little arm-washing, and a bit of defensive rationalisation. To be fair, I totally sympathise with her (for all its sacredness, the Ganges is lousy with sewage), and would probably have done the same thing myself… it’s just unfortunate for her that she had a BBC camera crew sat in the boat, filming her flip-flop… and that all the other, less-well-off pilgrims had cheerfully gone bathing in the murky brown water by the banks.
So, a good showcase for her as a performer, but I doubt we’ll be seeing her presenting a Bear Grylls-style survival show anytime soon!