India: Culture







How can I as a photographer and writer tell the story of a people unless I try to understand their culture? But it can be a difficult process. One minute I think I am beginning to understand –– little light bulbs are going on in my head –– and then confusion sets in and I realize I have only peeled back one tiny layer of a very large onion. Usually, my newly discovered culture error is greeted by uproarious laughter by a national that thinks of me as a great comedic interlude to his or her day.

Trying to understand a culture does not mean I have to agree with all I am learning. But it does mean I need to walk in humility. People in turn recognize my willingness to listen and often open up their lives.

Because of a relationship with a Hindu friend, I was allowed total access into the inner courts of a Hindu temple in Central India.

Photo #1 –– The only thing that moves is the smoke curling up and around the Sadhu (Hindu holy man) as he looks, transfixed on something beyond the present, definitely beyond the lens focussed on him. When I ask his name, my guide says, “He no longer has a name. He has given up everything. He is an unknown wandering sadhu.”

Photo #2 –– The noise from the brass gongs and wooden drums is deafening bouncing along the walls of the 17th century temple. The priest performs evening Puja (worship) of Shiva-ling (the phallus of Shiva) and outer gods located in the temple. After the Puja, the priest closes the gate so the gods can rest during the night. A similar Puja takes place in the morning when the gods wake up and the gates open again.

Photo #3 –– The light from the Dia (an earthen lamp) illuminates the darkness of the temple as ladies join the priest in the evening worship. The lamp was passed from woman to woman after each in turn made small circles with the lamp in their hands.

Photo #4 –– A devotee is late and has reached the temple after the Puja (worship). The gates close for the gods to rest. He still offers his prayers.

Photo #5 –– People dip their hands in turmeric and cow dung paste (considered to be holy) making a hand impression on a wall of the temple. Then they make a wish. When the wish is granted, they return and make another hand impression, but this time upside down as a mark of thanksgiving.

Photo #6 –– A spring below the temple produces water that Hindu adherents consider holy. The young girl is on her way to offer her water sacrifice to Lord Shiva.

All photographs ©Copyright Gary S. Chapman


(Nikon D4, 85mm f1.8, 1/320 sec, f4, ISO 3200)

(Nikon D4, 24mm f1.4, 1/250 sec, f1.8, ISO 5000)

(Fuji XT-1, 23mm f1.4, 1/120 sec, f1.4, ISO 6400)

(Nikon D4, 24mm f1.4, 1/125 sec, f1.4, ISO 5000)

(Nikon D4, 50mm f1.4, 1/30 sec, f5, ISO 5000)

(Fuji XT-1, 23mm f1.4, 1/170 sec, f1.4, ISO 200)

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