Bengal is truly a land of Baro Mashe Tero Pabon – a place where festivals are more than the seasons. Throughout the year there is a festive mood as each season brings a plethora of festivals along with faith as an important aspect in the life of Bengal and its people.
Sanjay Das, a Bengali expatriate in Delhi, visited his motherland after 40 years, and was so taken in by the state’s festivals and the ‘faithful’ that he decided to document them in pictures. His photo exhibit, a narrative on Bengal’s many meditative moods, was on display at Delhi’s Bengal Bhavan till recently. Aptly titled ‘Faith,’ it drew appreciation from all.
Sanjay, an advertising professional, says, “I had been travelling across India and taking photographs since long but an invite to shoot in Bengal in 2009, proved eye-opening. For three years, I visited Bengal off and on, stayed with varied communities, observed their work and religious rituals. I realised that there’s so much beauty in the ancient religious practices of this community that they need to be recorded in some form, or else they’ll be lost.”
So Sanjay ventured across the length and breadth of Bengal. He stayed in North Bengal’s Rajbari (royal residence) for a few days just before Durga puja. At the royal houses of Bengal, the idol is made in the precincts itself. Sanjay shot this process of constructing and then painting of the Durga idol.
At Krishnanagar’s Ghurni village, also known as the city of potters, he saw a platform where mud idols and the idol makers were sitting together, and captured it. He says, “It was a god-sent moment. One wonders who is the creator in this case. God makes humans and then humans also make gods.”
In Kolkata, he spotted this market along the Hooghly river which sells only lotus flowers. He remarks, “The photograph of this market signifies how important lotus flowers are to our religious rituals. Padda (lotus) is offered to goddess Durga on the ninth day of Durga puja.”
He also photographed Bishnupur’s famous terracotta temples and statues of Sharda Devi and Swami Vivekanand at Ghurni.
Besides, he also shot life at the monasteries in North Bengal, children reading namaaz at a madarsa in Murshidabad and the famous Bandel church. Sanjay says, “Faith does not only mean observing one’s own religion but also keeping faith in people from other religions. In Bengal, not only Hindus, but Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, all co-exist peacefully.”
His collection is also enriched by shots of baul (folk spiritual) singers and fakirs at Tagore’s Shantiniketan. He explains, “The bauls and fakirs of Bengal symbolise ultimate devotion. They preach acceptance and love for all faiths. Also, they don’t believe in any extravagant practices but just sing their way to God. Could one find an easier and sweeter language of faith?”