In Search of a God


Camera in hand, Madhur Dhingra begins his quest for God in the Buddhist monasteries of Ladakh and culminates the journey at Manikarnika,the Mahashamshan at Benaras. On his way, he moves through the Maha Kumbh Mela at Haridwar, and the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin.

          Obsessed with the play light, the Ladakh section of photographs in Madhur's Where Man Meets God series, are almost Rembrandt-ish in their use of dark rich colours. The deep reds and rich blacks inside the monastery  acquire a luminosity of their own as the roving camera follows the intruding shaft of light.

          Describing his experiences in Ladakh, Madhur says: “My visits to the Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh were a beautiful experience. The interiors of these monasteries are charged with peace and serenity. I would spend hours sitting there looking at the lamas performing their daily chores. I have tried to bring back some of the  peace I found there through my pictures.” A very elusive quality that to capture ,but Madhur seems to succeed to quite a degree.

But his best perhaps is reserved for the images of Kashi,The rich reds and blacks of Ladakh here give way to bright burning oranges. Rivetting, disturbing, moving, at times revolting this series depicts the entire gamut of life, beginning from the mundan ceremony to the final rites, and includes devotees, maverick tantriks, copulating dogs, funeral pyres and charred human flesh.

          What repels and fascinates, the both often go together- are a series of three photographs, one a close up, of a half burnt corpse. Talking of his experiences at the ancient Manikarnika ghat, Madhur mentions the “heavy atmosphere" and  the air which "smells burning flesh."

          Death is a serious business in our country, with endless rituals attached to it. But for the doms of Manikarnika, it’s just another job. And this attitude takes a turn towards the callous, when it comes to handling bodies of those who are unable to buy sufficient wood for the pyre. Describing the manner in which these bodies were burnt, the photographer recounts his horror at the disrespect shown to the dead bodies. The doms burn these bodies in parts. First, the middle portion is burnt, then as the fire catches on, the face and feet are partially burnt; after that, the charred body is turned with the help of a bamboo pole. The horrific sight makes one wonder if man ever really meets his God.

          The photo-exhibition which was previewed at Art Konsult will move to IIC from Tuesday. But it will be a censored version as the ‘horror series’ and the one which catches Naga sadhus in a homosexual act at the Kumbh will not form part of the show. In fact, even at Art Konsult, these four photographs were kept facing the wall, as they were deemed too disturbing.

          The ghats of Benaras have never were so hauntingly depicted as maestro Satyajit Ray did in his Aporajito, the second in the  Apu trilogy series. But that was sheer poetry, while this  is reality in all its stark ugliness. But then, who says art has only to be and look beautiful? After all, the take off point is life, which can be brutally ugly or beautiful.