Why do I photograph ? Am I afraid not to exist ? Do I need a material proof of my existence, of my memories, of my identity ? Photographers are observers and without distance no observation.
My spiritual experiences and human encounters in temples like Kaligath (Kolkata), Vindhyavasini (Mirzapur), Kashi Vishwanath or the Sanskrit College (Benares) cannot be photographed, cannot be observed, only experienced. I open up, let myself flow into an experience and give up my distance. Impossible to visualize for photography.
A Hindu temple is the house of god, and you go there to pay the enshrined deity a visit. You “see” the deity and the deity “sees” you. This is called Darshan, gazing and being gazed upon. The temple threshold is worshipped and adorned with flowers and auspicious symbols, like the home. The deity is regularly bathed and bedecked with finery, like the body. The ritual of worship involves food and gifts offerings, lamp and incense, singing songs of praise…The guest is god and god is the guest. Sacred marks are made using either sandal paste or red vermillion powder, often on the forehead. Sandal paste and turmeric cools the body, red vermillion draws out the energy. This language of color comes from India’s tantric or occult tradition. It shall bring in positivity and shall keep out negativity.
In Kolkata, I have the honor to arrive via Vandana and Ashok, Indian friends of my highschool friend, at the Kaligath temple at Amavasya. Amavasya, the day of no moon, the day when the evil spirits are stronger. The goddess Kali is worshiped on Amavasya as Kali has the power to destroy all evil. The main shrine shows Kali’s black face. Her orange eyes and the long golden tongue goading terrifies worshippers into submission. From one of her eight flailing arms a severed head dangles. Her neck is adorned by a necklace of bleached human skulls. Kali is the goddess of protection and destruction , Kala means “time”. Kali is one of the aspects of the wives of Shiva. Her worship is regarded as wish-fulfilling.
In the back courtyard, I see a dark Kali shrine with two sacrificing dark stones in U form to decapitate animals, I see old bloodstains, and marks on the walls. Maybe these dark marks bear still witness to human sacrifices in the name of Kali that took place here in former times.
I can feel the intense devotion of hundreds of people on the “Kali” Amavasya day in this powerful temple. Devotees queue in long lines. Due to Ashok, his family and I enter the shrine, which not all devotees manage on a day like Amavasya. The fervor is palpable in the shrine. Songs of praise surround me. My tears come to my eyes. I wash my hands with blessed water, I take the hibiscus flowers (hibiscus being the flowers of Kali), I arrive in front of Kali, in front of her eyes, in front of her golden tongue that pours water just a few centimeters away from me. I offer the hibiscus flowers, the money (that Ashok’s family pass to me). I turn the burning lamp around. I send my wish to Kali. The priest next to Kali marks my forehead with sandal paste while praising a mantra. After leaving the shrine, the family priest of Ashok, ties a red orange thread on my left hand (left as I am married) equally praising a mantra. I have to keep a rupee bill in my left hand and give it to him at the end of the ceremony. The thread symbolizes long life and protection against enemies.
The flowers, the marble under your bare feet, the perfume of incense, the sandal paste on your skin, the chants, the touching of the deity, the splashing of water over your head, the washing of your hand, the energy of the devotees, the whispering of mantras, the night … spirituality starts with the sensual experiences of your body, it is a path from within. From your senses it goes to your heart. From your heart, it goes to your soul. Life is experience of all.
Thank you, Vandana and Ashok for the wonderful experience, maybe I just experienced Darshan.