Arka Dutta /India

Artist Statement

Holy Men of Kumbha

My visit to Kumbha Mela at Allahabad in 2013 was mainly to witness and experience the sight and the mystifying Naga Sadhus. It is a tradition and a culture that you cannot kill, and it is a certain conglomeration of social significance with spiritual strength. Naga Sadhus (naked holy men) are a particular group of Shaivite saints. They are the epitome of renunciation. They hardly appear in public and the Kumbh Mela, where they come to take the holy bath, perhaps is the only time they are seen in the open and up close. The sheer persona of these men and the mystifying cult that precede them has an enthralling effect. With their nudity, matted hair, ash-smeared bodies, and smoking chillums, Naga Sadhus are forbidding and would not do anything that would help in demystifying them. The Nagas engage with the world outside only after some careful prodding and they barely interact with the mass. Perhaps the only day they are seen animated is the day when they take the holy bath at the Mela and the sight of them rejoicing is a magical one.

Curator Statement

Arka Dutta's Black and White documentation of Naga Sadhus during the 2013 Allahabad Kumbha Mela, are an awe inspiring imagery of the largest religious congregation ever with 120 million attendees. This gives us an insight into the only festival where this community of hermits gather together, leaving their Himalayan caves and coming down to the plains. This overwhelming sight with thousands of Naga Sadhus covered in ashes is an experience of a lifetime.

Arka's starkly expressive images capture them in every possible mood, energy and enthusiasm, giving us a glimpse into their mysterious surreal and bizarre world. This community among many Hindus are considered a representative of the gods on earth.

Sandeep Biswas


Arka Dutta is an independent photographer who is keen on doing documentary and journalistic photography, which aims to preserve reality and serve as a dialogue for the present and the future. Love for travel and the urge to experience different social, cultural, and environmental affairs and events motivated Arka to take up photography. He is self-taught.

The primary focus of his photographs is to portray the various environmental, cultural and social elements that can draw attention to problems or apprise events and efforts that can motivate. The works have tried to encompass different subjects from climate change, gender biases to cultural and social events that exalt humanity or give a glimpse of its diverse nature.

Arka was born in 1983 and I live in the city of Kolkata in India. He studied engineering and have a B.Tech degree in Mechanical stream. Arka has recently completed a work on the Bahuroopis of West Bengal and doing a long-term environmental project in Sundarbans.


  • Work chosen for Grant by Sahapedia. The work on Bahuroopis of Birbhum was completed under the mentorship of Dinesh Khanna. It was published by Sahapedia.
  • Awarded 3rd Prize at Days Japan Photo-Journalism Award. 2018
  • Keynote speaker at Victoria Memorial, on behalf of Ministry of Culture, presenting my photographic work on Kumbha Mela along with a talk. 2019.
  • Worked with Mr. Vindu Goyel of New York Times on covering volatile political atmosphere of West Bengal. His role included doing field research, content contributor and as a photographer. The story was published in both digital and print media in New York Times. 2019.
  • Worked with Mr. Josh Haner of New York Times on a story on death of Indian climbers on Mt. Everest and how their remains were found and recovered after a year. The story was published as Deliverance from 27000 feet in New York Times.
  • Photographs published at CNN showing environmental pollution of Jharia Coal mines. 2019
  • Was Awarded as Photographer of the Year at Black and White Spider Awards. 2018.
  • Photographs/series published in National Geographic, FeatureShoot, Washington Post, New York Times, SDN etc.

What you consider important in your training or career?
I consider research as an important part of my training in aspect of carrying out a photographic work. Before the actual act of photographing starts, research and recce help not only in terms of information but helps to choose the right edit, the appropriate mood that is required for the work. It also helps me not to remain an outsider who only witnesses but to share the space with the people of the story - both mentally and physically. I believe such participation helps both to better visualization of the work and adds value to the photographer as a person as well.