To Understand Culture

20140801_damoh_0012How can I as a photographer and writer tell the story of a people unless I try to understand their culture? But it can be a difficult process. One minute I think I am beginning to understand –– little light bulbs are going on in my head –– and then confusion sets in and I realize I have only peeled back one tiny layer of a very large onion. Usually, my newly discovered culture error is greeted by uproarious laughter by a national that thinks of me as a great comedic interlude to his or her day. Trying to understand a culture does not mean I 20140801_damoh_0967-640x426have to agree with all that I am learning. But it does mean I need to walk in humility. People in turn recognize my willingness to listen and often open up their lives. Because of a relationship with a Hindu friend, I was allowed total access into the inner courts of a Hindu temple in Central India.

Photo #1 –– The only thing that moves is the smoke curling up and around the Sadhu (Hindu holy man) as he looks, transfixed on something beyond the present, definitely beyond the lens focused on him. When I ask his name, my guide says, “He no longer has a name. He has given up everything. He is an unknown wandering sadhu.”

20140801_damoh_0969-640x425Photo #2 –– The noise from the brass gongs and wooden drums is deafening bouncing along the walls of the 17th century temple. The priest performs evening Puja (worship) of Shiva-ling (the phallus of Shiva) and outer gods located in the temple. After the Puja, the priest closes the gate so the gods can rest during the night. A similar Puja takes place in the morning when the gods wake up and the gates open again.

Photo #3 –– The light from the Dia (an earthen lamp) illuminates the darkness of the temple as ladies join the priest in the evening worship. The lamp was passed from woman to woman after each in turn made small circles with the lamp in their hands.

20140801_damoh_0978-640x425Photo #4 –– A devotee is late and has reached the temple after the Puja (worship). The gates close for the gods to rest. He still offers his prayers.

Photo #5 –– People dip their hands in turmeric and cow dung paste (considered to be holy) making a hand impression on a wall of the temple. Then they make a wish. When the wish is granted, they return and make another hand impression, but this time upside down as a mark of thanksgiving.

20140802_damoh_1197-640x426Photo #6 –– A spring below the temple produces water that Hindu adherents consider holy. The young girl is on her way to offer her water sacrifice to Lord Shiva.

Rajesh: A Story of Hope

DSC_0081Rajesh’s story is one of hope and redemption. While he was born into a strong Hindu family,Rajesh found it difficult to find peace within himself and felt disconnected from God. However, his heartache didn’t stop there. Through a series of unforeseen deaths, Rajesh was left without his wife and his son. “I was going through a life of storm inside out. My wife died, and my son who was in high school went to a friends wedding and died in an accident..”Rajesh prayed to gods, but was left without answers. It was during this time that Rajesh was slowly becoming legally blind, leaving him with an even greater sense of loss. With his deteriorating health and the loss of his family, Rajesh was broken emotionally, physically, and financially.

DSC_0086“Nothing helped, then a Christian preacher came to our village and distributed Christian literature published by Mid India Christian mission, which told me that the “way, truth, and life” is Jesus.” Rajesh prayed to Jesus, and immediately felt the peace he had so desperately been searching for. He was baptized and became a preacher, bringing the love of Jesus to nearby villages. Rajesh faced persecution because he was the only Christian in his village, but he continued to preach.

IMG_1481He began to visit widows and new believers, praying for them as they experienced dark times in their lives. As he continued to dedicate his life to God, Rajesh found himself blessed beyond measure. He remarried, and had children. “Like Job in the Bible, I praised and thanked God for He has given me twice and more than what I had lost. Thank you God for changing my life for your glory. You have used this broken vessel and my physical weakness to witness Your grace mightily to others.”

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