A Story of Faith, India, photo essay by Siddhartha Banerjee[T]his is a reportage of one of the less known religious festivals of Bengal. This is celebration of one of the less popular Hindu Goddess, Setala, celebrated believing the Goddess will keep people away from the vices of Small and chicken Pox. This is generally celebrated during the month of February, when small pox used to attack Bengal and is celebrated around the 108 temples of Goddess Setala in the district of Howrah. Although, this event is very less reported and talked about, hundreds and thousands of devotees come every year praying for the health and well-being of themselves and their families.
The customs start from the morning. People use to light candles outside the temples and worship the Goddess. They take a holy dip in the Ganges and many of them cover the way from the river to the temples on their chests. Children, seeing their parents lying on the road, are often struck with fear. However, sometimes, even the children are made part of this painful walk. The faith is so strong that some people lose senses and they are treated as ‘possessed’- either by elements of the Goddess or by the demons. These customs are then followed by processions in the afternoon, and it is this time, the crowd and indiscipline increases. Street bands play on the roads, and men and women, often drunk with liquor, dance and move from one temple to another. The police and National Cadet Corps work hard the whole day, but at this time of the event, even they fall short. Slowly, the day ends and people start returning to their own homes and the area returns to normalcy and the temples to peace having no trace of the struggles of religion of the day. (Siddhartha Banerjee)
Q&A with Siddhartha Banerjee
Photography is a piece of truth. It is a medium that helps me to show the world my reaction to the truth, the way I see the world. And of course, photography , or rather photographs, help me see the world a bit differently. To tell the truth, I had tried painting when i was a child, I was terrible at that. As I grew older, I tried to express myself through writings. I won’t tell I was too bad, but obviously, the language is a barrier. As I got into college, I got a chance to put my hands on a camera, and I found a whole new medium to express myself. Photography, that goes beyond the barriers of language, that appeals to each and every human beings, whether educated or uneducated, and doing all this, it seldom deviates from the path of truth.
Photography and writing…
Photography and writing, in my opinion, go hand in hand. I am new to photography, and even newer to writing along with photography. But in my opinion, photographs shouldn’t need the writing to explain them, and neither should the writing need the photograph. They should act like perfect partners, living together, complementing each other. That’s how, I view Photography and Writing.
Who left the biggest impression on you?
Well, that is a tricky one! Basically, I am more into people’s photography. And who would leave the biggest impression on me, but the people! I get inspired and impressed by the people and their activities around me, how everyone is unique, how everyone builds their own world around them, and yet lives in harmony with the rest of the world (well, a little chaos is necessary, don’t you think?), that motivates me every time to go out with a camera and shoot. And, speaking about photographers, works of Diane Arbus leaves me crave more and more into my camera.
Tell us a little about yourself
This is the toughest question in any questionnaire. To tell me about myself, I come from the suburbs of the city Kolkata, and before joining my college in 2012, I had absolutely zero knowledge on photography. I had already mentioned, I had this urge of expressing myself, and I used to write, most of which were in Bengali, my mother tongue, and I felt , it did never reach enough. In college, fate brought me to the photography club (Jadavpur University Photographic Club), and I started learning. It was only in late 2013, I had my first camera, the one I still use today. I tried everything – Street, Nature, Macro, but slowly I came to realize where my interest belonged, it was people. I always loved to shoot people. I liked the ways of people, how different from each other, not just the big things like culture, but even small things, like their reactions to events, how they eat, how they used to talk. I slowly started searching for moments – small moments, that would go unnoticed, but if frozen, that might reflect some greater truth, a bigger story. I have this thought that life of every person is an anthology of stories, and there are millions of people around me, thus trillions of stories luring me to catch them. And if I can catch even a small fraction of them, that would leave me satisfied. Thus, I concentrated more on people. And this, in short, depicts the story of my photographing life. Apart from that, I am almost in the verge of completing a graduation in Chemical Engineering, and thus, on the verge of starting my professional life, which I am still unsure of! But photography, whether I follow it as a profession or continue to be a serious hobbyist, will occupy a large portion of my life.