The annual Kodungallur Bharani festival is known for the raucous and unrestrained devotional practices of its participants. Thousands of devotees chant sexually explicit songs to the rythmic beat of short wooden sticks, while Oracles of the Goddess Kali, called ‘Vellicapads’ (illuminators) beat their foreheads with sickle-tipped swords to make offerings of blood and to reveal the Goddess‘ wishes through trance.
Red rivulets stream down the Oracles’ faces, as devotees throw tumeric, peppercorns and live chickens to literally ‘trash’ the temple and its grounds. Although some Hindus find these rituals reprehensible, the devotees believe their celebration of Kali’s ‘sakti’ (power) and their expression of raw, unrepressed emotions serve to please the Goddess.
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This beautiful woman stood with me for nearly an hour off to the side of a huge pandal (temporary structure erected to house festival idols) watching an endless crowd of pilgrims prostrate and make offerings before the clay painted statue of the Goddess Durga. Every once in a while she would gently tap me on the wrist to point to some interesting group of people or to explain what the priest was doing. She spoke hindi, which I don’t speak – but somehow we managed to communicate.
I met this woman on the trail near the Rabdese ruins. She became curious and sparked a quick smile when she saw that I wanted to take a photo of her. Her nose rings are very similar to those worn by the bengali women at the festivals in Kolkata. That, plus the ash marks on her forehead suggest that she is bengali hindu rather than tibetan or bhutanese – all cultures which have come together in this area.
After I snuck a shot of this woman washing dishes in the morning dawn, I moved slightly to my right to get around a big cement block that was in the way….oops, she spotted me just as i snapped this shot and waived me off. So I guess it’s time to move along…
Sangachoeling Gompa is a small, very old monastery that sits on a ridge near the town of Pelling. It’s home to probably a dozen or so monks. I came across it during an early morning stroll through the mountains. There weren’t any other visitors and their supporters seemed modest in both numbers and means. This fellow blew the conch shell as they circumambulated a stupa before their mid-morning meal.
This guy lives at the Mulik Ghat near the flower market. When I saw him hangin out smoking a hand rolled bidi, i couldn’t help but think he could have just as well been sitting along the walkway at Venice Beach posing for pics with the locals.
Met these guys during a late afternoon stroll – I can’t imagine how hard it must be to work with fire in the middle of the scorching hot Kolkata days. They invited me to step inside to give it a try… but I couldn’t take the heat!
A young boy endures soapy water and a solid scrub from his older brother. Although this shot seems like it’s a private little corner of the city, there’s actually cars and buses and taxis and carts rushing by and people all around. It’s just another day in this crowded, chaotic, intensely hot city.
I was drawn to the strength in this woman’s expression and in her hands. She had just finished washing a load of clothes when a loud crowd of men carrying very large, very heavy “idols” passed by the ally.
This city (and all of India really) is full of paradoxes but there’s one thing for sure – these folks sure work hard… This guy is carrying a basket full of leafy greens to a large communal kitchen where about 20 men and women are preparing huge bowls of bengali food for a festival feast.
The taqiyah (or cap) worn by this fellow suggests that he is muslim rather than hindu. This makes sense since i met him in the muslim neighborhood of Chitore, outside the gates of a large active mosque.
This fellow was napping in the Chinatown park where the Asian women generally won’t let me photograph them. But when I focused on this guy, they were all giggles. Not sure whether they were laughing at him, laughing at me taking a photo of him, or simply glad I wasn’t pointing my camera at them!