Capturing the phantoms


Here the photograph of the inside of an ancient temple with elaborately carved stone pillars is highly evocative . This would surely have been a throbbing centre of activity two centuries ago when hundreds of devotees thronged the place for worship. The temple today , being devoid of God in the sanctum and in a state of neglect, has collected puddles of rain water and has become green and slippery with moss. A photograph is surely equal to a thousand words !

Here is another photograph of an ancient temple in ruins in Sanchi which is equally evocative:


A poem deals with the temple in the following way:

The temple

Thinking never felt so good
Beads of perspiration glistened
While luminous peace arrived in spurts
Behind was electricity of high voltage
Words flowed steadily in thought
In fast disappearing streamlets
There was the power of fragrance
Of lighted camphor and tiny flowers
My people’s concentrated history
Flowed through these stone archways
Stone people who lived on forever
These are my own dearest kinsmen
My flesh and bones are made
Of the same powdered red rock
We worship the same granite god.

(At the Hazar Rama temple in the Hampi ruins)

I have come across a beautiful photo-essay which presents several ruined buildings of the urban landscapes each of which has a fascinating story to tell.Let me quote what the author Shaunne Oboyle says :

“Ruins are a window into human histories, they tell the tales of the past through the architecture and objects left behind. Ruins capture the imagination with their ability to tell stories, the rich language of architecture opens a window to the past, a poetry of architectural spaces, structures and found objects capture past events and offers them to the keen observer. Memories are inscribed on the walls and in the discarded objects; the silent rooms and dust covered furniture recall moments when these places were occupied. One of the more powerful aspect of ruins is the subject that is missing in the photographs; the people who once worked and lived in these spaces, their presence can still be felt in the architecture and discarded objects. Ruins are the containers of events played out, still vibrant and suprisingly alive with the memories of the past. These places are true museums, preserving the past in its unpolished and raw form. The aging surfaces bear the etched marks of former times, memories from the past pulse from the walls.

There is a layered meaning in these places, random pieces of a historic and social puzzle are clumped together, confused by years of decay, these ruins are an archaeology of our culture, they reveal unexpected artifacts of a past that seems distant and foreign. Archived in these ruins are the collective memories of a changed culture, the forgotten pieces of the past being preserved as in a time capsule. Modern ruins exist in the fringe landscapes of our cities, places that were once hardwired to the center of the social and industrial infrastructure, now they have become faded shadows hidden behind cyclone fences on the outskirts, along old canals and abandon rail lines. They map an old system of industrial landscapes now encroached upon by office parks, expanding suburban sprawl and industrial enclaves.”

Fleeting images


The situation above relates to the puja ceremony being performed by a group of pilgrims outside the Srirama temple at Orccha in Madhya Pradesh . The photograph captures the spacial situation just like poetry .It can capture fleeting images in space and can explore their inter- relationship in a spacial situation. A photograph cannot capture their relationship across different planes of existence in time and space except through the viewer’s own level of consciousness.A back-and-forth movement in time or dynamic switches in space are not possible in photography.

Take a look at the following situation in poetry:

Images in a train

They lived outside the pale of my existence
Just a few images that touched the fringe
“Hello image” :Mersault addressed Marthe
Just like only one of her other lovers did
The woman here was a mere image
The way her eyes flashed at her husband
As she changed the nappies of the child
The child swung in the cloth-cradle, gently,
Like a weaver bird swings in the fibrous nest
He cried , he gurgled ,he knocked about
A mere image in another image’s existence
Mersault knew Marthe was a mere image
Flesh-and-blood Marthe did not know this
This woman did not know she was an image
Only I knew she was an image ,like Marthe.

In the above poem the characters have been invested with a certain halo which is a product of the poet’s own mind. A photograph cannot produce a similar effect.

However , depending upon the state of the mind of the viewer and the sensitivity of his perception a photograph can almost reproduce a typical human situation much like a poem does and can produce almost the same effect in the viewer.

A similar human situation  involving fleeting images in space can be  captured in photography,as in poetry, where  each of the elements of the spatial situation interrelate to produce an interesting human motif :


The photograph here depicts a morning scene that happens typically before the gates of the Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar .While a poem deals with the same motif by talking about any spatial situation similar to the above, the photograph deals with just one such situation  but can produce a similar aesthetic appeal.

The drama of human actions


The ritualistic actions of the human race provide a fascinating insight into human nature. While traveling in Karnataka I came upon a fascinating sight of some people performing religious ceremonies for their dead kin at a holy site of the confluence of two rivers. From the vantage of a narrow bridge I could capture the whole scene on my camera- an extremely poignant moment indeed. I have come to like the picture very much.


Then the drama continued
The words were spoken
From the guttural depths
Of a middleman’s throat
And washed by drops
Of sanctified water
The pursuit of silver
Went on in the waters
With sonorous words
Chasing multitudes of
Life-death shadows
The waters flowed silently
Over the rocks nurturing life
And its golden-brown ashes.

The photograph is given above. My poem tries to capture the moment in a similar fashion, once again bringing to focus the essential similarities in the treatment of a subject in both poetry and photography.The only difference is that the poem has been able to capture the delicious irony of the man standing in knee-deep water trying to fish for the coins dropped by the relatives of the dead.The poem counterpoises the essentially tragic moments of the relatives paying homage to the dead with the worldly actions of one of the priests trying to gather the coins from the running waters.

Offering food to the ancestors

The ritual shown below relates to the Hindu ceremony of offering “food” to the ancestors at the holy shrine of Badrinath in the Himalayas at a spot called Brahmakapal on the banks of the Alaknanda river. The Hindu pilgrims come here to perform the ceremony at this precise spot called” the Skull of Brahma(the Creator)” .It is believed that offering of rice balls to the spirits of the forefathers here will bring moksha (release) from births and deaths to the spirits of the deseased.


The drama of human actions


A group of things or beings form a spatial existence,which is unique and does not bear repetition because it has existed in a narrow strip of time and owes its existence to the viewer’s own consciousness.Such an existence passes quickly and cannot be resurrected in time.The only thing that can be done is to recall it i the present consciousness.While recalling there is an overlap of the current mental state of the viewer over recalled consciousness.

A photograph capturing such an existence will be like reproduction of a slice of human consciousness. The drama of human actions captured in photography offers a fascinating insight into human consciousness more particularly when the actions are a part of a ritual or arise out of group behaviour. The ritualistic actions of the human race provide an interesting study of human nature and evolution.Our attempts to capture them in art will help in perpetuating the poignancy of the moments whose meaning is short-lived and will not last beyond those moments.

In the following pages I try to dwell on how photographs capture , just like poetry, the drama of human actions , especially as it unfolds in ritualistic human behaviour. Religious rituals , more particularly in Hinduism ,cover every aspect of human life involving different stages like child birth,initiation,marriage, death and afford a wonderful opportunity to study the shared consciousness of the human race.