Char­i­ots of frolic

Ban­ga­lore-based pho­tog­ra­pher sameer raichur ex­plores a glitzy in­dian wed­ding tra­di­tion.

Frankie - - AROUND THE WORLD - IN­TER­VIEW SO­PHIE KALAGAS

Hello! Tell us a bit about your­self, please. Hi! My name is Sameer Raichur, and I’m a doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­pher based in Ban­ga­lore, In­dia. I trained as a lawyer and spent a year work­ing at a cor­po­rate law firm be­fore course cor­rect­ing. I’ve been tak­ing pho­tos since 2012.

How did you come across these amaz­ing ‘char­i­ots’? I vividly re­call walk­ing the streets of Arni, Tamil Nadu, on a swel­ter­ing evening – sum­mer tem­per­a­tures in In­dia can touch 45 de­grees. I was on as­sign­ment to doc­u­ment the lives of sa­ree-weav­ing ar­ti­sans in this town, and the sound of the looms was still ring­ing in my ears when I en­coun­tered my first char­iot of frolic (a blue Fiat Pre­mier-pad­mini). Though I hastily pho­tographed the ve­hi­cle, the ex­pe­ri­ence stayed with me for many months.

What is the story be­hind the jazzed-up cars? While wed­ding cars are quite com­mon across the world, the dif­fer­ence in the Tamil Nadu ver­sion is that they’re mod­i­fied to re­sem­ble horse-drawn char­i­ots. En­ter­pris­ing wed­ding dec­o­ra­tors tar­get­ing mid­dle-class, up­wardly mo­bile clients have fab­ri­cated these cars to en­able a night­time wed­ding re­cep­tion on wheels. They’re used to an­nounce a cou­ple’s mar­riage to the town, and trans­port them from a Gane­sha tem­ple (where a small cer­e­mony is per­formed) to their re­cep­tion venue. A band leads the pro­ces­sion, fol­lowed by the fam­i­lies, and lastly, the cou­ple in the car, who are of­ten handed a fizzy drink to share.

Tell us more about how these ve­hi­cles are made. They’re pri­mar­ily made in the towns of Thiru­van­na­malai and Kanchipu­ram, though there are in­di­vid­u­als do­ing it on a much smaller scale in other towns, as well. They’re built from dis­carded cars – sold at scrap prices – that are no longer in pro­duc­tion. The rear seat is re­moved to ac­com­mo­date an el­e­vated plat­form, on which a sofa or set of chairs is placed for the bride and groom. The plat­form has an or­nate back­ground re­ferred to lo­cally as the ‘disco’, which is made of pa­pier-mâché dec­o­ra­tion around fi­bre­board, hous­ing LED or tung­sten bulbs. The light­ing is pow­ered by a gen­er­a­tor tucked away in the trunk of the car.

How are char­i­ots con­nected to In­dian tra­di­tions and folk­lore? Char­i­ots are com­monly seen on the streets in In­dia dur­ing fes­ti­vals, where they’re hand-pulled by devo­tees, some­times num­ber­ing in the thou­sands. It’s a com­mon sight for a tem­ple to have a shed for its ‘res­i­dent’ char­iot. In an­cient In­dian mythol­ogy, char­i­ots are equally as­so­ci­ated with tales of elope­ment as ab­duc­tion of brides. Vedic Hindu wed­ding rites dic­tate that the mo­ment the bride mounts the groom’s char­iot, the tran­si­tion from her child­hood home to her mar­ried life has be­gun.

And how do these ver­sions re­flect In­dian cul­ture more broadly? In­di­ans take their wed­dings re­ally se­ri­ously, and fam­i­lies be­lieve in spend­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of their sav­ings to fa­cil­i­tate a gaudy cel­e­bra­tion. The char­i­ots are a man­i­fes­ta­tion of this mind­set. Al­though, the de­sire to have such wed­dings is chang­ing with my gen­er­a­tion – many are opt­ing for low-key cel­e­bra­tions or es­chew­ing mar­riage al­to­gether.

What were you try­ing to cap­ture in this photo se­ries? Con­sid­er­ing the char­i­ots are usu­ally ob­served in crowded processions, I con­sciously showed them de­void of hu­man pres­ence, in or­der to de­part from the way In­dian wed­dings are gen­er­ally rep­re­sented. The quiet set­tings are a tran­quil rem­nant of the chaotic cel­e­bra­tions the ve­hi­cles fa­cil­i­tated. Shoot­ing them at night also adds a layer of des­o­la­tion and lone­li­ness – feel­ings that are not usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with a wed­ding.

What in­spires your pho­tog­ra­phy? My per­sonal work fre­quently re­volves around the themes of fam­ily and kin­ship. I also draw in­spi­ra­tion from the het­ero­ge­neous cul­ture and land­scape in ru­ral In­dia, where it’s ex­cit­ing com­ing across un­told sto­ries and cu­riosi­ties.

Where can we see more of your work? sameer-raichur.com

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