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An aerial journey

In Uddhav Thackeray's latest book, 'Pahava Vitthal', he tries to capture the life of devotees on their pilgrimage to the temple of Lord Vitthal. MiD DAY spoke to a couple of well-known photographers in Mumbai and asked them for their views on the book

Recently, Uddhav Thackeray, Executive President of Shiv Sena came out with a book of photographs on devotees who visit Pandharpur, a pilgrimage site in Maharashtra. 'Pahava Vitthal', Uddhav's second book was launched on April 30 at Jamboree Maidan in Worli. The book contains photographs of devotees who visit Pandharpur, a pilgrimage site in Maharashtra. The pictures were taken by Uddhav between June and July 2010. In his preface, Uddhav writes in Marathi, "It is a tour of Pandharpur from the sky." The photographs try to capture the life of Varkaris (pilgrims) through their annual pilgrimage trek of 21 days. The book consists of aerial shots taken from a helicopter by Uddhav himself and portrays the colourful extravaganza, the grandeur as well as the significance of the padyatra (foot march). 

 
This is one picture that stood out for both our reviewers. For well-known
photographer Ashima Narain, this picture was the best as, "it shows the
huge scale of this event. Despite so many people attending the festival,
you can see the devotees respecting the boundaries. The geometric
shape of the picture is equally nice. The composition is good as the lines
are clearly visible."  For Mukesh Parpiani, head of the Piramal Gallery
at National Centre For the Performing Arts (NCPA) it was a good aerial
shot, "Uddhav has made good use of the helicopter here. Such pictures
can only be captured from a certain height."

It all started with a good friend asking me, "We are joining the Varkaris (pilgrims) this year. Will you come with us?" At first I was skeptical but I knew a few people who had participated in this padyatra. I was aware of the history and the significance of this festival. Finally, I embarked on this spiritual journey last year. The walk was long and the days were extremely hot and sunny. I believe that it is a test of endurance for the devotees, who cover nearly 250 kilometres in just 21 days. Shouts of "vachav ray Panduranga, kiti ata baghashil" (Panduranga, mercy on us) filled the air. Nearly one devotees participate in this arduous and long pilgrimage.


The composition is what stood out for Narain. "I like the picture because
of the colour combination. There are white topis with orange flags. The
colour combination is good." This picture did not work for Parpiani. "A
picture of any rally in Azad Maidan will give you something similar.
I don't find this special."


The devotion of the people is  absolutely mesmerising. People from all walks of life -- the rich, the poor, the young, the old, men, women, people from cities and villages-- all of them participate in this long march and anybody can join in. I wanted to find out what is it that draws so many people to this festival every year. Is it spirituality? Is it religion? It is amazing to see how tradition, which is so old, is passed on from one generation to the next. In the evening, groups of devotees sing bhajans (devotional songs) as thousands of people gather to listen to them. There are one-act plays to entertain the audience. During the padyatra everything is done with a lot of discipline. From cooking to distributing food to singing, everything is a collective effort.


The picture shows pilgrims camping in makeshift tents during the festival.
Narain thinks that this picture evokes some sense of "emotion as strangers
come together for a common purpose and there is so much of sharing
and caring that it portrays."However Parpiani doesn't find this picture
interesting enough. "To me it does nothing. I would have preferred to see
more emotions, faces of people, their expressions."


You're never alone here. The procession is also known as the Dindi Yatra. Day after day, undaunted by heat or rain, the pilgrims fill the air with tumultuous chanting. Sometimes they dance, sometimes they sing. But one thing is for sure, no one goes hungry during the Dindi Yatra. It's a different experience altogether. (Bibhas Dutta is a software engineer based in Pune)


A nice picture, according to Parpiani, as, "it shows the medium of transport
that is being used by the devotees. Technically, every shot is good but
yes I wanted to see more drama, more emotion." Why did Narain like
this shot? "There is some extra information given to the readers. The
mode of transport used by the devotees is shown and their devotion is
visible."


Pahava Vitthal
Price: Rs 200
Available At leading bookstores

Ashima Narain photographer
Overall Narain finds the book interesting and says, "It's a book worth making. The culture, the fervour has been captured beautifully. Aerial photography is quite uncommon in India so it is a good attempt by the photographer to portray things differently."  At the same time, Narain wished that a few "ground shots" which could capture emotions of the devotees would have added value to the book. "A more encompassing view of all these people, the energy inside them could not be captured well. It is difficult to capture emotions so a few shots from the ground itself would have brought the whole subject alive." Narain also thinks that the photo edit should have been tighter as similar pictures have been used too often. This is an indicator of confusion, "a lot of pictures were repetitive and did not really add much value."


Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Mukesh Parpiani

Head, Piramal Gallery, NCPA
Parpiani said that aerial shots of the Pandharpur festival were in fact, "something new." However, he did not sing paeans of praise for Uddhav's book. Nevertheless, he appreciated the politician's effort. "His interest in photography is definitely good for the profession too." What did not work for him? Explains Parpiani,  "most of them are standard shots and I don't really find anything great in them except one or two. There is no picture that I will scan and put up on the wall." Even Parpiani thinks that, "Emotion is what is hugely lacking here. I would want to look at people closely. What are they doing? Their expressions, their faces." And there are too many pictures, which have been repeated. "The person who chose the shots probably did not know what to use and what not to use. Maybe he was trying to please the photographer by using as many shots as possible. The editing is loose and it should have been tighter, I think Uddhav's previous book was much better," said Parpiani.


Pic/Shadab Khan

HISTORY
Pandharpur is an important pilgrimage city on the Bhima river in Solapur district, Maharashtra. The Vithoba temple of the city attracts around a million pilgrims during the major yatra (pilgrimage) in the Hindu lunar calendar month of Ashadh (June-July). Every year Varkaris (pilgrims) walk hundreds of miles to the holy town of Pandharpur, gathering there on ekadashi (the 11th day) of Ashadh(June-July). Varkaris making the pilgrimage to Pandharpur carry palkhis (palanquins) of the saints from their places of samadhi (enlightenment or "spiritual birth"). According to historians the whole festival started way back in the 13th century. Today about 40 palkhis, with their devotees, come from all over Maharashtra to Pandharpur. The Varkari pilgrimage includes the worship of Krishna in the form of Vithoba.


FIRST BOOK
Uddhav Thackeray's first book of photographs called 'Maharashtra Desha' was a coffee table book on the aerial scenery of Maharashtra that predominantly covered 27 out of the 350 forts that dot the landscape of the state. Shivneri, Torna, Rajgad, Pratapgad, Vishalgadh, Purandar amongst other forts and some temples such as Saptashrungi, Haji Ali Dargah, Jejuri were also covered in the book. In order to shoot these pictures, Thackeray had to send the photos to New Delhi by the Ministry of Defence for scrutiny before granting clearance. Post this book, the Shiv Sena, launched a non-political organisation called Durga Premi Sangathana, to bring together all those who love and want to conserve forts in Maharashtra.

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