If you’re not able to make it to Washington, DC for the Smithsonian Institute’s groundbreaking exhibition, Yoga: The Art of Transformation, you can still get a taste of yoga history-in-the-making from the comfort of your own home. Mystical Journey: Kumbh Mela, a documentary that takes a rare insider’s look at the world’s largest devotional gathering, will premier on the Smithsonian Channel on Saturday, November 2.
Sanskrit scholar Dr. James Mallinson takes English actor, and childhood friend, Dominic West (best known for his role on The Wire) on a behind-the-scenes experience of the 2013 Kumbh Mela, which was attended by an estimated 100 million people during its two-month duration. The Maha Kumbh Mela is held every third year at one of four holy locations in India.
The hour-long documentary explores the relationship between West and Mallinson, as well as the relationship Mallinson has with his own mentor and guru. At Mallinson’s invitation, West gave up his comfortable lifestyle to spend two weeks living an ascetic life in sprawling temporary tent cities with the sadhus, or holy men. The film reveals some of the secrets of these yogis, including an incredible visual display of the various forms of yoga practiced among the sects. The documentary also presents Mallinson’s initiation as a Mahant, making him the first non-Hindu westerner to receive such high distinction in the sect he belongs to.
In this clip from the documentary, Mallinson explains his thoughts on the origins of yoga. He disputes one Tantric sect’s claims of “inventing yoga,” and reveals how they’ve embraced asana practice in recent years. “So the yoga boom in the West has fueled a revival in India,” West observes.
A second clip gives insight into the holy Hindu warriors.
Mystical Journey: Kumbh Mela
Airs Saturday, November 2 (8pm PST/EST & 11pm PST/EST) and Thursday, November 7 (2pm PST/EST)