The ancient town of Pushkar is one of the holiest pilgrimage sites for Hindus. Situated about 15 km north-west of Ajmer in Rajasthan, the town is famous for its Brahma temple, one of the very few temples of the Creator Deity in the Hindu Trinity.
Pushkar, as everyone knows, also hosts the annual cattle fair in the month of November every year. It draws tourists from all over the world, eager to get a glimpse of the ‘exotic’. Adding to this exotica are the thousands of devout pilgrims and holy men from all over the country who come to Pushkar to answer Brahma’s call, to take a holy dip in the sacred lake of Pushkar during the full moon night of Kartik Purnima.
The little town comes alive during these few days every year. The narrow streets bustle with people, pilgrims and sadhus rubbing shoulders with visitors from from all over the world. Traders and curio shops do brisk business, as well as eateries catering to foreign taste buds. Barber shops promise exotic massage, displayed in English and Hebrew. Cafes offer ‘Real Italian Style Coffee’, along with spaghetti and Special Chapatis. Little bookshops are stuffed with titles ranging from religion to lavishly produced books by Steve McCurry, with one shop displaying a note from the photographer himself alongside one of his books.
Behind this veil of the exotic, in the back alleys of Pushkar, life carries on as it has done for centuries. An unhurried life centered around the innumerable shrines and temples scattered all over the town, giving us a glimpse of a culture rooted in tradition stretching back thousands of years. As I click away, I feel like an outsider. Someone asks me why am I taking pictures; I have no answer. I mumble and walk away. I realise my own culture and traditions have become exotic to me, exotic enough photograph and hang up on a wall like trophies.
I spot a bahurupiya, dressed as Hanuman, sitting outside one of the gates to the ghats of the lake. He eyes me suspiciously as I raise my camera. As I click and walk away, I wonder if he knows the significance of the character he is portraying. A monkey, symbolic of the human mind, but as Hanuman, devoted to Ram–the elemental mind sublimated into the Inner Man, the Purusha in all of us.
Kaushik Saha, born in Calcutta, now Kolkata, presently residing in Delhi. After 15 years in the advertising industry, I quit to devote more time to photography. I currently work as a communication consultant. Photography for me is a way of exploring and understanding my past and the culture of which I am a product, but in a way also an outsider, thanks to my ‘secular’ education.