Vinaya Mohan relieves stress with a good dose of photography, finding peace in capturing colourful traditions and festivals on holiday in India
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.
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 . 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 . It was a very spiritual experience.