My first self portrait with the Nikon D7000 and my two speedlights. ISO-200, 50MM f/1.4 inspired by Eliot Ness and the Untouchables
This photo was taken after the very first NYC google+ photo walk back in September 2011. After spending the better part of the evening shooting in the west village, a few of us went out for dinner and drinks at “El Cantinero” on university place. Our waiter noticed that everyone in our party was wielding a camera so he changed into the Mexican ranchero outfit and hammed it up for the photographers. I snapped this while he was taking our order. It reminds me of a fun night reconnecting with an old friend and meeting some new ones with whom I still shoot with on a regular basis. The photo walk proved to be a success with more people joining in on subsequent walks. My other photos from The G+ photo walks can be seen here.
Before departing Gondal for Rajkot, we had one last thing to do. We went to see an ascetic(sadhu) in residence at the temple dormitory. He was a distant relative to a woman in our party. Since the sadhu was unable to see or talk to her because she is a woman and a relative, my friends were chosen to visit with him and I was fortunate to tag along. For those of you who don’t know, the sadhus undergo years of intense spiritual grooming before donning their saffron colored robes. Part of this is learning and living by the “Panch Vartman” or the five principal vows. They must be detached from or without lust, greed, taste, pride and affection. Therefore they cannot look upon or speak to women, attain wealth, touch or handle money, eat food mixed with water so it is tasteless, be humble and completely detach themselves from their relatives. It is believed that through meditation and these detachments, one can achieve enlightenment.
Three of us entered the dormitory and were ushered into a small makeshift office under a staircase where we met the sadhu. He recognized that I was not Indian, so he spoke to us in English. After we introduced ourselves, he knew that we were there to check up on him on behalf of his family back home. Out of respect to him and his vows, my friends did not mention anything about his former friends or relatives. He was gracious, a little surprised and amused that my wife and I were surviving well with the food in India as first time visitors. The chit chat turned into a spiritual talk. He encouraged us to focus on our “Atma”(soul or higher self), to meditate and see God in all things. He advised us to avoid distractions such as technology,alcohol, music, eating meat, etc., pretty much all things I thoroughly enjoy. Even though everything he said made sense to me, I find it extremely difficult to follow his advice. I know one day I will have to try.
After the talk, we thanked him for the words of wisdom and received his blessing. I asked him if i could take his picture and he obliged. He in turn offered me some postcards of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the present Guru of BAPS, writing on a blackboard in Gujarati. I had the writing in the postcards translated later and saw that it was a summary of the spiritual talk he had with us. My friend tried offering him a few rupees but he deferred to his assistant (not a sadhu) who collected the offering for the temple. The below photo is one of my favorite memories of India.
I spent a few days zig zagging across Gujarat with my wife and friends visiting various mandirs(temples) of the “Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushotam Swaminayrayan Sanstha”(or BAPS for short). BAPS is a major organization within the modern Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism. We visited these mandirs as guests with the family we were traveling with. It was a sort of pilgrimage for them to pray for their recently departed. Despite the purpose of the long trip, I was happy to have been invited and document this part of India that few westerners ever get to experience.
The experience at the Shikharbaddha Mandir in Gondal is one that I will not soon forget. We stayed at the temple’s guest house for a night (an “experience” my wife will not soon forget!) and rose early in the morning for the first Aarti at 7am. With camera in hand, I was reluctant to take pictures because I didn’t want to offend anyone. The main temple is divided into 3 areas separated by waist-high gates. The front section is reserved for the ascetics only. The second section is for men only and the third, for women. A man approached me, pointed to my camera, made the universal sign for “take pictures” with his index finger and motioned me to follow him. He invited me to sit behind the ascetics before the central shrine of Purushottam, Akshar. I then heard the sound of this song performed live with children and adults in the temple singing along and I have to admit, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed.