Kodungallur Oracles

Kodungallur Oracle

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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Oracle and Daughter

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Pink Pandal

Pink Pandal (Kolkata)

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.

Streetside Puja

Streetside Puja (Kolkata, India)

It is said that the Durga Puja, which honors the Mother Goddess Durga, cannot come to an end until all the women have had the opportunity to make offerings and receive her blessings – and this includes all the women who may live or work on the streets. So, although i’ve been to probably a dozen or more ceremonies over the past few days, from lavish affairs in private homes to simple blessings in neighborhood temples, for me, this small spontaneous gathering on the side of an incredibly busy street was one of the most memorable ceremonies.

Kathakali Dance-Dramas

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Kathakali is a form of highly stylised classical Indian dance-drama that blends literature, music, painting, acting and dance. It originated in the country’s southern state of Kerala during the 16th century AD, approximately between 1555 and 1605.

There is no dialogue in Kathakali. Instead, communication among the characters, and to the audience, is through an intricate language of hand gestures, combined with facial expression and body movements.

The make-up, called Chutty, is an art form in itself. The colourful faces are the results of hours of painstaking handiwork by expert artists. The basic materials used for the make up are very crude items like raw amorphous Sulphur, Indigo, Rice paste, Lime, Coconut oil etc. It can take up to 6 hours to prepare a performer’s make-up.

Brother’s Love

Brother’s Love (Kolkata, India)

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.

Got Gamcha

Got Me A Gamcha

Our fearless leader, Tewfic El-Sawy, has a thing for scarves – that’s no secret. This cotton scarf, or “gamcha”, is used by many Bengalis as a sarong for bathing, a cover for protection from the heat and rain, a towel for sweat and dirt, a bug swatter, a spread for sleeping, a mat for sitting…and so many other things. Behind this fellow’s gamcha is his empty basket, which moments earlier was full to the brim with fresh vegetables.