Photo feature

The many faces of faith, as seen through a photographer’s camera

Nilanjan Ray’s images reveal the myriad ways in which religion binds together Indians.

Heads and bodies bowed in reverence, the cleansing fire burning at the altars, stacks of sweetmeats and offerings, and extravagant pageantry. Visuals like these recur in Nilanjan Ray’s images, reiterating with every frame the place faith takes in the lives in so many Indians.

Ray, a photographer and banker, began clicking pictures of faith in Varanasi, Bihar and the temple towns of South India a few years ago. Done in black and white, the photographs of devotees in temples, monasteries, churches and mosques, and religious processions, document the little ways in which religions manifest in India.

Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.
Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.

“A religious faith is not a collection of people who share beliefs,” said Ray. “It is a community of people who have made the commitment to trust one another to care for each other’s spirits and souls, and who join together for a common purpose.”

An exhibition of his photographs, Faith: A Quaint Emotion, is on display at the India International Centre in Delhi till December 6.

“When people visit a place of worship, there is something unique about their facial expression,” said Ray. “To me, the way their hands are folded, or the way they contort their bodies or prostrate themselves, is almost artistic.”

Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.
Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.

Not a religious man himself, Ray nevertheless believes in the presence of a higher, spiritual power.

Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.
Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.

Ray’s best work comes from Varanasi, the ancient city chronicled by generations of artists and photographers. The Varanasi in Ray’s pictures is poetic: multitudes throng the ghats of the Ganga, half-submerged humans join palms in prayer, all of them waiting for salvation.

Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.
Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.

While the premise of Ray’s project is fairly simple, his photographs are barely so. In Faith: A Quaint Emotion, there are insights into the elaborate, and sometimes opulent, ways in which a person appeals to a higher power.

Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.
Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.

For Ray, there are two sides to faith. “Pure Faith is the kind of trust that you hold even when your rational mind says you should not. It is a double edged sword. At times, being able to have pure faith is a blessing, at other times, blind faith can do more harm than good.”

Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.
Photographer: Nilanjan Ray.

Faith: A Quaint Emotion is on at the India International Centre till December 6.

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