I was 14 when my family left Nigeria and
returned to India. My formative years in India were eventful; I was amazed by
this land of religious pluralism and syncretism. Every street in India
accommodates a God and every voice invokes the divine. It was fascinating to
observe the intertwined relationships between India’s religious and spiritual
communities, and how every belief system tolerates the practices and values of
others. But simultaneously, I was disturbed by the sectarian violence and
hatred that would erupt in the blink of an eye. The Babri Masjid demolition,
the Bombay blasts and riots, the killing of Dr Graham Staines, the Chamba
massacre, the Gujarat riots—countless acts of religious violence took place
within a span of 10 years, from 1992 to 2002.
These extremes transformed my perception of religion and spirituality. When I started out as a photographer in 2007, I began to explore the spiritual, social and political influences of religion on India and its citizens. I was using a cheap camera and a plastic lens. I had no project or specific narrative in mind. It was more of an organic evolution of my own emotions, understanding and perspective.
But to document the thousands of sacred spaces, religious rituals and faith-based festivals, scattered all over our country, was never my objective. I was simply trying to enrich my own understanding of the interactions between religion and society. And the making of these photographs did teach me a lot. I believe these photographs together convey how rich and diverse is the idea and practice of religion in India.
New Delhi, 2008. Vishal Anand (left) stands while his newly-wed elder brother shares a moment with his wife. Vishal’s girlfriend was forcibly married to someone else, as their parents did not approve of their five-year-long inter-religious relationship. Vishal is Hindu and his girlfriend was Christian.
Anandpur Sahib, 2008. A Sikh martial artist at the annual Hola Mahalla Festival. Hola Mahalla is a Sikh religious event that lasts for a week and consists of camping out and enjoying various displays of fighting prowess and bravery, followed by religious music and poetry.
Barsana, 2009. A single tree stands on the hills of Barsana. Barsana is a holy town for Hindus and a local temple was protecting this tree from being felled. Once covered with a dense forest, illegal land mining and tree felling have left the hills barren and susceptible to erosion.
New Delhi, 2007. A Sikh leader addresses a group of farmers gathered outside the Parliament building to protest against increased rates of electricity and water supplies.
Auroville, 2007. Visitors at the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture on New Year’s Eve.