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Vi­naya Mo­han re­lieves stress with a good dose of pho­tog­ra­phy, find­ing peace in cap­tur­ing colour­ful tra­di­tions and fes­ti­vals on hol­i­day in India

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Dis­cover how cap­tur­ing the vi­brant colours and spir­i­tu­al­ity of a holy In­dian fes­ti­val helped one N-Photo reader find in­ner peace

My brother-in-law in­spired me to try pho­tog­ra­phy on a vacation. He no­ticed that I had be­come frus­trated with my hec­tic job, so he showed me some photos taken by well-known pho­tog­ra­phers from around the world. He and some friends helped me to learn the ba­sics of pho­tog­ra­phy, and I re­alised that this helped me to over­come the stress and pres­sure of my job. It’s 10 years since I started en­joy­ing my life and work at the same time.

Varanasi, in Ut­tar Pradesh, is re­garded as the spir­i­tual cap­i­tal of India. Ev­ery year mil­lions of Hin­dus are drawn to Varanasi to bathe in the sa­cred wa­ter of the River Ganges, to wash off their sins, or to per­form fu­neral rites. It’s a colour­ful place, with lots of ac­tiv­ity through­out the day and night, and a mul­ti­tude of peo­ple and cul­tures, which make it a street pho­tog­ra­pher’s par­adise. I had a chance to visit Varanasi dur­ing Dev Di­wali, also known as the Fes­ti­val of Lights of the Gods, which takes place 15 days af­ter Di­wali.

Since the streets of Varanasi are nar­row and it’s pos­si­ble to get close to any sub­ject there, I nor­mally take a 14-24mm lens and a 70-200mm lens. For this trip I wanted to try some­thing dif­fer­ent, so I took a 24mm lens in­stead of the usual 14-24mm. I car­ried two D4s bod­ies with me to avoid chang­ing lenses. I knew I would take a lot of the photos in low light, so I needed a body that could take low-light photos with rel­a­tive ease.

Quiet med­i­ta­tion

I was so ex­cited on the day that I landed in Varanasi that I didn’t know where I should start or what I should do, so I de­cided to ex­plore Varanasi as a tourist and started to wan­der all over the place. By the end of that day I had a clearer idea of the sort of images I wanted to try to shoot.

The next day I woke up at 3am to start my pho­to­graphic tour. I got at­tracted to one sadhu [1& 2] with a very

spir­i­tual ex­pres­sion on his face. A sadhu is a holy per­son who is solely ded­i­cated to achiev­ing lib­er­a­tion through med­i­ta­tion and con­tem­pla­tion. Sad­hus ded­i­cate their lives to pray­ing, chant­ing and med­i­tat­ing. They lead very sim­ple lives and do not ex­pect any­thing in re­turn. I was at­tracted to him by his aura and ra­di­ance, and I started to fol­low him from morn­ing un­til night, with­out dis­turb­ing him. He was en­gaged only in prayers and med­i­ta­tion. He was not bound to any­thing other than God. It was quite a chal­lenge to take photos of him with­out dis­turb­ing his med­i­ta­tion. My D4s’s quiet mode helped me a lot in this re­spect.

The fol­low­ing day I de­cided to ex­plore more of Varanasi. Ev­ery day here starts and ends with the Ganga Aarti rit­ual [3]. A group of priests per­form Agni Pooja (fire wor­ship) where a ded­i­ca­tion is made to Lord Shiva and to the River Ganges. Af­ter shoot­ing the Ganga Aarti, I took a boat ride along this sa­cred river, tak­ing in Varanasi’s fa­mous tem­ples and many ghats.

The next day was Dev Di­wali it­self. This fes­ti­val starts with the of­fer­ing of prayers and flow­ers to Lord Ganesh. This is then fol­lowed by the of­fer­ing of lit earthen lamps, or diyas, by Brah­mins and young girls, with the chant­ing of vedic mantras in the back­ground.

A lot of devo­tees take a dip in the River Ganges on this aus­pi­cious day. This rit­ual is be­lieved to rid a per­son of their sins. It was madly crowded and I found it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to walk around with­out step­ping on some­one or a lamp, but the whole of Varanasi and the River Ganges looked very beau­ti­ful and colour­ful lit by mil­lions of th­ese diyas [4]. It was a very spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence.



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