Historically considered a mechanical device to keep record, photography didn’t even start to find a place in galleries until the 20th century. It’s no surprise then that paintings and sculptures of Hindu deities were the dominant way to experience Indian mythology. As an Indian traditionally raised in Mumbai, despite my extensive exposure to Hindu temples, I had never seen a photograph of a deity created from scratch. Most Hindus have seen the use of painting and sculpture but rarely photography taken to the level of exacting measures with respect to showcasing deities, this is how “Darshan” was born. Darshan is a Sanskrit word that means ‘sight,’ ‘view’ or ‘vision’. My project Darshan aims to photographically recreate 9 classical images of gods and goddesses pivotal to mythological stories in Hinduism.
I grew up in a Hindu home to parents who were quite spiritual. I visited countless temples, shrines, and discourses as frequently as my parents wanted. These discourses circled around attempts to unravel the mysteries locked in chapters of mythological enigma and tales of deities, reincarnations and astrology. The roots of Hindu mythology run deep; my own experiences as a child ranged from being fascinated and enlightened to lost and still seeking. I moved from India to the United States in order to pursue an undergraduate study in Fine Art Photography. The frequency with which I visited Hindu temples in what felt like my previous life, gradually got replaced with visits to art galleries, museums and studios, where creativity in all mediums of expression was revered and placed on a pedestal to honor. The museum in my life had now became the temple. As I dug deeper, I saw a lot of parallels between the museum and the temple. As devotees, as students, as artists we frequently visit what we regard our own temples of worship. We take our aspirations and desires to these places. We hope that a piece of art or a symbol of God will speak and send us a message.
This communication inspires us and helps show us our path in life. Sometimes our expectation filled visit disappoints us, but ultimately it’s our faith that keeps us going. While making the first image I discovered that what this project bridges for me, is that be it photography or spirituality, both need practice, faith and devotion.
Aside from stretching the boundaries of photography as a medium, Darshan showcases the ability of a photograph to evoke a spiritual response. This project also highlights and culturally preserves the heritage and artifacts from one of the oldest religions in the world. The nine deities that will be photographed are are Maa Laxmi and Lord Vishnu, Maa Durga and Lord Shiva, Maa Saraswati Lord Brahma, Lord Ganesh, Lord Hanuman and Maa Kali.
The first image created as a proof of concept is Maa Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune. The creation of these photographic icons requires the most laborious and detail oriented study. It involves a 14 person crew that includes set & prop builders, makeup artists, art directors, painters, carpenters, jewelry experts and assistants. September 2011 will be spent in Mumbai creating four more images in the series. I encourage you to look at the link below to view a three minute video showing you the making of my first image.