Buddhism captured in photographs

In pictures

Besides a breathtaking range of films on Buddhism, the recently concluded first international Buddhist festival in Delhi ‘The Inner Path’ included a beautiful photo exhibition as well.

Spiritual heights: The Wat Chaiwatthanaram temple in the city of Ayutthaya, Thailand.

Aptly titled ‘The Greatest Journey of Ideas: The Spread of Buddhism,’ it included a total of 29 photographs by acclaimed lensman Benoy K Behl, narrating a rich history of Buddhist heritage across the world.

No doubt all those who visited the festival at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) admitted feeling like having travelled the world of Buddhism through this exhibition itself.

Benoy K Behl is a renowned archival conservationist photographer, artist and documentary filmmaker of mainly Buddhist sites with a body of work spanning atleast 35 years.

He has taken over 35,000 photographs of Asian monuments and art heritage, made a 100 documentaries on art history and his works have been displayed in almost all major cultural institutions of the world. He even holds a title in the Limca Book of Records for having travelled most extensively to all corners of India to photograph heritage sites.

‘The Greatest Journey of Ideas...’ with 29 photographs was, in fact, only a preview of a much larger exhibition of over 100 photographs which are going to be on display in London, Tokyo and Washington DC shortly.

Speaking of his love for documenting Buddhist sites, Benoy says, “It all started over three decades ago when I went to photograph Ajanta caves in Maharashtra and fell in love with the paintings.

They were so beautiful, serene, compassionate and graceful I felt like I want to photograph more such art works. From there, I have only travelled and travelled and documented Buddhist symbols to my heart’s content.”

This exhibition, in fact, covered a total of 19 countries including India, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, Nepal and Bhutan.

The photographs, displayed in a perfect series with explanatory notes, retold the birth and the development of different schools of Buddhism in India and their spread to other countries.

For example, one of the photographs on display depicted the earliest Buddhist paintings found in a remote part of Western Tibet. This was besides another photograph of the ancient Samye monastery there modelled on the Odantpuri Mahavihar of Bihar.

Then he has photographed beautiful Stupas, built between the 1st and 3rd century AD, in the Tarmez area of Uzbekistan and the partially destroyed Bamiyan statues in Afghanistan.

There were photographs of the enchanting mural paintings dating back to 5th century AD found in the Sigiriya area of Sri Lanka and many caves with related paintings in
China.

On a contemporary note, he has photographed more recent Buddhist settlements in the Kalmykia province of Europe, Buddhist temples in Russia and monks in Myanmar. No doubt each of the photographs are precious in their archival value.

Benoy adds, “You know, the earliest chain of Buddhist monasteries found across Tibet, Bhutan, Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti was built by Kashmiri artists. These structures, dating between 10th and 12th century AD, are known as the most magnificent works of human creation.

Even then, the purpose of making them was to spread the love and joy inherent in Buddhism. Unfortunately, in the race of our hectic lives today, we are forgetting that serenity. I am hopeful that my photographs will help reawaken that joy inbuilt in each of us and make our lives more peaceful.”

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