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