“India must find back and manifest her soul.”
Some years ago in a bookstore in a small university town in the US, I came across a beautiful picture book which I had to immediately buy. The book titled Living Faith: Windows into the Sacred Life of India is a collection of photographs taken by the noted Indian photographer, Dinesh Khanna. I had seen some of his pictures on the web, but this book really made me an admirer of his work.
The flap of the book has this to say – “Living Faith is an intimate, revealing record of a deeply spiritual way of life. It acknowledges the strength of private worship and shared faith, which ultimately transcends the more visible but short-lived realities of discord.” One has to see the pictures in this remarkable collection to get a sense of what Pico Iyer (who has written an introductory essay to this book) refers to as “something of what India does, at its best: namely, to take individual moments of worship, private acts of devotion – the soul in solitary colloquy with its God – and somehow bind them into the larger fabric of society and life” (p. 21).
What I enjoy and appreciate most in this collection of photographs is that this is an excellent expression of the spirit and practice of the living truth of diverse forms of human attempts to connect with the Divine. The book is a visual narrative of the ways these attempts and expressions of faith, love and devotion for the Divine are present everywhere in almost every street corner in India.
The sheer profusion of “sacred” is certaintly a visual representation of the ideal of spiritual aim of life, emphasized by Indian culture, and at the same time can serve as a deeply healing force in its own way for the sea of humanity struggling with its myriad struggles of life and living.
The separation between the human and the Divine, between secular and sacred is not as sharp and divisive in India as we see in the Western societies. At least that is how I have come to know and experience India. And perhaps the fact that I was living in the US at that time and this book so beautifully reminded me of this sharp difference between India and the West, at least in this regard of Faith that is indeed Living and Breathing in the Indian visual landscape, made me immediately want to possess the book. Who knows?
But of course, in some elite metro areas of today’s India we now witness re-constructed, sanitized, western style attempts at urban-ness or urbane-ness, but that is still quite unreal and seems somewhat imitative and artificial. At least to me, it seems that way. And the moment we step out of it, we are in the middle of pulsating, throbbing human expression of the Divine, almost a visual record of attempts at bringing the Divine closer to the human — whether it is expressed through a make-shift temple created by simply placing an old, half-broken statue of a deity or simply a stone marked with holy red powder, or through a picture of one’s favourite deity glued awkwardly on the dashboard of a car or taxi….we see this almost everywhere. It is everywhere, in all religious traditions. The book, Living Faith, is an excellent visual representation of this India…of the Living Faith that sees and tries to experience the Divine in All and Everything and yet Beyond All and Everything.