Monthly Archives: April 2013

To them, to you

Nothing seems the same anymore – the past has ceased to exist, and the future matters no longer. All that is important is the “here and now”.  That is truly how I feel at this moment. And for me to feel this way has been a long and arduous journey – almost ten years that began sometime late 2001. Much of those ten years were spent in darkness, a miasma – not literally, but figuratively. I was rather oblivious to feelings of those around me, people that mattered, and those who loved me, I ended up hurting, caused them deep pain and anguish in return for love.

But there will always be a tipping point, a watershed moment when things will change – I believe it to be karmic, that all of this ends when you change and when your deeds change; maybe it happens at the metaphysical level, maybe at another, but the world becomes a different place when I see it differently, when that darkness gets replaced with light. For me, it was when I stepped out with my camera alone for the very first time and went to the Himalayas in September 2011. I had time to reflect, time to retrospect and time to spring clean my soul. And when I did that, my perception of things changed. When I made this photograph of an old lady, these words of Auguste Rodin are just right for what I felt: “To any artist, worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.” 

Getting to that inner truth, as August Rodin calls it, isn’t easy – it needs me to reach deep within the confines of my soul and confess finally to myself that much of what I see there is darkness; to replace that with light needs me to change. It really isn’t an easy journey – change never is; the harder right than the easier wrong, you see. But the easier wrong calls for punishment, or retribution if that is a better word. So I paid. And when I paid my dues and accumulated no more, everything changed. I believe that there is someone who is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, you might call Him by many names: Jesus, Allah, Krishna, but what’s in a name anyway? What I believe is that the Truth is within me, and not elsewhere. The light lies within. And that light once seen, illuminates all around me with beauty. As Audrey Hepburn said: “The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows and the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”  And these words came to mind with this photograph of an 102 year old Bishnoi lady admiring the finery of her grand daughter-in-law.

And you see as I introspect, I realize that I started seeing the light within only with my camera – which is why I always say that photography isn’t a passion anymore, it is spiritual for me. The etymology of photography, by the way, is Greek – “phot-” for light and “-graphos” for drawing. The act of creating a photograph is only after seeing the light. But more than that, I do believe a photograph has less to do with seeing the light, but more with feeling the light within. I don’t think I can create a photograph that means something, or even anything, with what I see…I can do it only with how I feel.

Because of photography, I see and feel things differently, I see magic and wonder in much that is often ignored. I find “ordinary” people fascinating, their stories compelling, when most either ignore them or worse, pity them. It is only when I can feel the magic of that which is around me, can I even begin to attempt and capture it. None of my photographs fall in the realm of art, and I would be delusional calling myself an artist. I am not one. My photographs are of what I see, you see, we all see everyday, not exotica, but perhaps the difference is that I see the magic in them, those ordinary people, I believe they have much more than I have. I believe that they are my gurus.

Which brings me to what is the meaning of guru. In the earliest known discourse of the word in the Markandeya Purana, in the form of a dialog between Shiva and Parvati, Shiva alludes to guru being the remover of darkness, bestower of light. Light. The Inner Light. Which is why I say that these “ordinary” people are my gurus – they showed me the light when all that I had was darkness. Which is why I respect them, no, I revere them. They taught me the real meaning of love. I revere you. You taught me the real meaning of love.

To them, I owe a lot.

To you, I owe a lot.

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Karma and Kumbh

The month of March has been frenetic and feverish – and that is an understatement. Other than the consulting assignment, which I have been working on, it has also been a sort of geeky month. My website had some glitches on the server, then my iPhone acted up and finally, my laptop decided it was time to breathe its last. Add to that a switch to Apple after using Windows for about 20 years, and you can imagine how it has been. Fascinating!

And this meant that even writing a post got put on the backburner. Anyway, here I am again…with thoughts of the Maha Kumbh that I went to in February.

Held this year at Allahabad, at the confluence of the three most holy rivers in India: the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mythological Saraswati, the Kumbh lures the faithful for a dip in the holy waters that relieves them of lifetimes of karma. Hindu religious scriptures say that bathing on the astrologically favorable days snuffs out innumerable sins, relieving the pilgrim of his or her entanglement in the complex cycle of birth, disease, old age, and death – the cycle of samsara. Kumbh is actually a Sanskrit word meaning “pot”, “pitcher” or “jar” and mela means “festival.” According to Indian mythology, the Kumbh Mela derives its name from the pot of the immortalizing nectar from the waters of the holy river Ganga.

It has had an appeal or an allure for saints and scholars for many millennia. In about 302 B.C., the great Greek historian Megasthenes documented his seventy-five-day stay at Prayaga (Allahabad), during a mela which had an attendance of two and a half million. Some hundreds of years later, in the 7th century A.D., the devout emperor Harsha invited the distinguished Chinese mendicant Hsian Tsang to attend the festivities of the mela. Later when writing his journals, Tsang noted Harsha’s consummate spiritual leadership with lavish praise and wrote: “The festival concluded with Harsha distributing all of his accumulated wealth to the needy, down to his robes, and returning to his palace in clothes borrowed from his sister.”

The Kumbh is a melting pot for perhaps more than eight thousand religious groups and sects that debate and discuss philosophy. For the mela, it is said that this is a symbol of Hindu unity, an instrument for passing on spiritual teachings and values of India’s ancient Vedic culture to the masses of devotees.

Here saints and sinners, mystics and beggars, all gather on the banks of the holy Ganga in the smorgasbord of by far the largest human congregation on Earth, albeit temporary. Pilgrims travel from far across many miles to bathe in the Ganga; they are dressed in their finest and most colorful – it is a celebration of hope, and festivity for a better tomorrow.

The numbers tell the story – this year there were a total of 100 million people who attended the Kumbh; on the days these photographs were made, I was just one of 30 million people there.

At the Kumbh, there is a veritable sea of swaying bodies and heads, which moves slowly towards the confluence of the three rivers – a deluge of pilgrims. The intonation of invocations, cacophony of flutes, bells, cymbals, horns, and the constant blaring of devotional songs over innumerable loudspeakers are a constant accompaniment to reverence. There are the aged who cannot walk without support, there are mothers being carried literally by their sons, there are sons being carried by their mothers. All in the name of faith. And hope.

Yes. Faith. And hope. That about sums it all up: for karma, and Kumbh.

And for life.

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