It is frequently said amongst Hindus that only when God calls you, will you go to Him; this is called ‘bulava’ or the ‘call’. Be it at a mosque, temple, gurudwara (temple of the Sikhs)or church, God ultimately is the deciding authority of this calling. This revelation once again came to me through a photography shoot at the famous NizzamuddinDargah(tomb) in Delhi.The Dargah was built in the year 1325, by one of the world’s most famous Sufi saints, NizamuddinAuliya. The tombs of poet Amir Khusro and the Mughal Princess JehanAra Begum are also located within the boundaries of the NizamuddinDargah. Countless devotees- mainly Muslim but also belonging to other faiths- come in daily to pray, seek blessings and find answers to their queries or solutions to their problems.
One fine morning, I had a sudden urge to visit the dargah. I decided to arrive there early morning, hoping to capture great images and to avoid the crowds. One has to walk through the several meandering by-lanesof color, shades and glitterto get to the doors of the dargah. Like others, I did not have a choice but to buy from the persistent shop keepers who line up the lanes and greet you with a ‘Salaam Alaikum’. The traditional offering in the dargah is flowers and a ‘chunni’- a long shawl kind of soft cloth for laying on the tomb.The images of the lanes are quite memorable. As I passed through I noticed a guiding burst of sunrays that tried to enter through the torn and chewed up portions of the cloth canopy covering the lanes. The lights inside the lane too reflected the lush pink rose petals that shimmered on the tinsel and sequence works of the colorfulchunnis.It was like walking through a‘house of beautiful small mirrors’!
On entering the dargah, I respectfully offered the chunni and flowers and took a corner seat facing the main praying room. While I was the early one, soon the place was filled with hordes of people, including children and old people. The light at that hour was that of the rising sun which cast out a warm, pleasant scene, ideal for the perfect frames.
As subjects for a photo shoot, the women dressed in beautiful pastels and floral prints added the zing to a plain frame as the patterns broke the straight washes. Men being in plain white kurtas- a traditional long shirt- and salwars– a traditional loose sort of pant- were slightly difficult to shoot as the shades of their attire merged with the floor, walls and pillars.The children however were fun to capture in frames as their clothes with their high energy movements.
The different areas of the dargah were lit differently and this was somewhat of a challenge to a photographer and I had to keep on adjusting the exposure. I did manage to get frames of people deep in prayer, the carved walls with threads tied onto them and a collection of hundred lockscolored in silver and gold. The scented fumes released by the several lit agarbattis– incense sticks- added to the pious ambience. I used this to get a smoky effect with a lower shutter speed so the movement of the slow, rising smoke could be frozen.
The next area had a brighter wash which helped as the colours, patterns and light made for clearer photos. People watched for a while, some looked right into the frame, some stopped me from clicking them while some just smiled. It was a sea of emotions I could sense through their eyes and their body languages and this created some good portraits.When it comes to people, I learnt that focusing on their eyes is what forms good portraits be it candid or posed as the contrast in them is the highest.
There was non-stop high decibel chanting of prayers. This, along with the scent of floating fumes created an almost trance like atmosphere. This state helped me frame a few more shots that were also in sync with the mood.
A few hours had gone by. It is not usual for a young photographer to be around that long in a dargah and to be clicking away. So finally, amaulvi(a learned Islamic scholar) came up to me and made inquiries. On being convinced about my genuine quest as a photography student, he gave me a primer on the religious aspect of the several rituals that go on here. For instance, devotees tie a mouli- a multicolored piece of thread- on the carved grill walls to affirm their secret wishes and prayers.
By now, it was quite sunny and bright, the shadows were getting intense and stronger and all this was not conducive to getting good images. But I did manage to sneak in a few shots on the way out through the covered by-lanes. I looked back at thedargah and felt blessed and peaceful.