Photography, the hill and a sage

PICTURE CARDS FROM THE AGNI SHYLAM

Human settlements have the nature of endorsing ‘enduring images’, for their self representation and identity. These images originate from the historical association of the town / city with a legendary personality, a monument or an episode. Over the period of time, these images start asserting their influence over the city itself and a day comes when the people start recognizing the city with the particular imagery. Tiiruvannamalai, an ancient temple town at the foot of Arunachala Hill is one such classic case of photographic images taking over the identity of the city. 

Image (C) Eliot Elisofon / 1949 / Image courtesy TIME magazine
Arunachala Hill / Image (C) Eliot Elisofon / 1949 / Image courtesy TIME magazine

Tiruvannamalai has attracted several creative people since the Sangam period. The first recorded history of the town dates back to the ninth century CE, as seen from Chola inscriptions in the Arunachaleshwara temple which states that the present masonry structure of the ancient temple was built during the same period by the Chola Dynasty (from 850 CE to 1280 CE). The temple, one of the largest in India, is rich in tradition, history and festivals. Every month during full moon, several thousand pilgrims perambulate around the Arunachala Hill. Karthikai Deepam is the most popular festival of Tiruvannamalai and inscriptions indicate that the festival was celebrated as early as the Chola period (3rd to 13th century BCE).

Image (C) GG welling  1948 / Ramana Ashram Archives
Arunachaleshwar temple / Image (C) GG welling 1948
Image (C) Eliot Elisofon 1949 / Image courtesy TIME magazine
Arunachaleshwar temple / Image (C) Eliot Elisofon 1949 / Image courtesy TIME magazine
Image (C) Henri cartier-bresson 1948 / Image courtesy MAGNUM
Sadhu / Image (C) Henri cartier-bresson 1948 / Image courtesy MAGNUM
Image (C) Eliot Elisofon / 1949 / Image courtesy TIME magazine
Local temple / Image (C) Eliot Elisofon / 1949 / Image courtesy TIME magazine

Apart from the Cholas, Tiruvannamalai was ruled by the Pallavas, Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Carnatic kingdom, Tipu Sultan and the British. The architecture and art created collectively by the artists’ guilds of yesteryears with the patronage of the perennially warring, but ever culturally united rulers, stand as a museum of our culture and art. Hundred years old Christian churches, several mosques and Jain temple etc., adorn this ancient town. The various religious and ethnic groups have settled around the Hill and their life, livelihood and lifestyle is very much centered on the Hill.

Singa kulam / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Singa kulam / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2012 / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Local deity / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Local deity / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2014 / Image courtesy EtP Archives
ALC / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
ALC / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2013 / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Sufi Darga / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Sufi Darga / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Narikurava / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Narikurava / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2014 / Image courtesy EtP Archives

The town is politically active and the presence / activities of the different parties are visible from the different public sculptures, flags, images, symbols and signs.

Dr. Ambedkar / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Dr. Ambedkar / Image 2014 (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Periyar / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Periyar / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2012 / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Untitled / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
‘Untitled’ / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2014 / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Kamaraj Nadar / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Kamaraj Nadar / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2012 / Image courtesy EtP Archives

Movie and cinema is probably the most common pass time in the town and there are quite a few theaters.

Cinema Paradiso / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
Cinema Paradiso / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2010 – 2014 / Image courtesy EtP Archives

ICON of the ancient town

Image (C) PRS Mani / Image courtesy Sri Ramana Ashram Archives
Sri Ramana Maharishi / Image (C) PRS Mani / Image courtesy Ramana Ashram Archives

Sri Ramana Maharishi, born Venkatrama Iyer came to Tiruvannamalai on 1st September 1896. He was born in Tiruchuzhi, Madurai in the year 1878. In his 17th year, a remarkable experience as if undergoing death of the physical body while remaining in full consciousness became the turning point in his life. Following the transformation, he left his home and was drawn irresistibly to the sacred hill of Arunachala. He never left the hill. In the ashram which was formed around him, he taught the purest form of Advaita Vedanta (non-duality) through the supremely simple discipline of Self -Enquiry.

Earliest known photograph of Ramana Maharishi 1908 / photographer unknown
Earliest known photograph of Ramana Maharishi 1908 / photographer unknown

Ramana Maharishi’s creative consciousness also included art forms including photography. When photography was introduced in India, word spread about the camera’s almost magical abilities to create images, something that has so far been attributed to the gods and the it was celebrated as a miracle. The immediate belief and reaction was a fear factor that ‘photographs can steal a person’s soul’. Not many a saints and believers were coming forward to be photographed.

Probabaly, Ramana’s knowledge of ‘light’ and the ‘alchemy’ behind the original photography process is the reason for his interest in this new medium. He understood the versatility of the medium, its possibilities as a historical document as well as the aesthetical dimension of the images. He would invite photographers from different parts of the country and engage in lively dialogues with them to create living images of a time gone by. Indian photographers PRS Mani, Dr.T.N. Krishnaswamy,  G Govind Welling have created several images of Ramana Maharishi, the ashram and the town. Several acclaimed International photographers including iconic French Photographer Henri Cartier-bresson, American documentary photographer Eliot Elisofon took several images of Sri Ramana Maharishi and Tiruvannamalai. These images were printed in several International magazines and newspapers including the TIME, Magnum etc.,  The wide publicity received through these publications is one of the important reason for the town to have become internationally renowned. Ramana urged the preservation of these images and an invaluable few Ramana and Ashram related images of the eminents’ is now being archived and preserved by Sri Ramana Ashram, Tiruvannamalai.

Image (C) GG Welling / Image courtesy Sri Ramana Ashram Archives
Sri Ramana Maharishi / Image (C) GG Welling / Image courtesy Ramana Ashram Archives
Image (C) Henri cartier-bresson 1948 / Image courtesy MAGNUM
Sri Ramana Maharishi / Image (C) Henri cartier-bresson 1948 / Image courtesy MAGNUM
Image (C) Dr. T N Krishnaswamy / Image courtesy Sri Ramana Ashram Archives
Image (C) Dr. T N Krishnaswamy / Image courtesy Sri Ramana Ashram Archives
Image (C) Dr. T N Krishnaswamy / Image courtesy Sri Ramana Ashram Archives
Sri Ramana Maharishi / Image (C) Dr. T N Krishnaswamy / Image courtesy Ramana Ashram Archives
Image (C) Dr. T N Krishnaswamy / Image courtesy Sri Ramana Ashram Archives
Sri Ramana Maharishi / Image (C) Dr. T N Krishnaswamy / Image courtesy Ramana Ashram Archives

Tamils worship visuals on an everyday basis. This innate nature to worship visuals also extended to include photographs of Ramana. Several thousand copies of Ramana’s portraits are circulated and worshiped. The earliest known photograph of Ramana was taken in the year 1902 (photographer unknown). The most famous is the ‘Mani bust’ taken by PRS Mani. Evidently, the town has grown to be inseparably associated with Saint Ramana.

'Mani bust' / Image (C) PRS Mani / Image courtesy Sri Ramana Ashram Archives
‘Mani bust’ / Image (C) PRS Mani / Image courtesy Sri Ramana Ashram Archives

Contemporary photographic imagery of ‘Maha Rishi’ Ramana

Thus, the town is abundant with images of Ramana. Many known and unknown contemporary photographers have created huge bodies of photography works of Tiruvannamalai. The floating tourists also makes countless snapshots of the reminiscence of Ramana, the hill and the town. EtP (Ekalokam Trust for Photogaphy) has a huge collection of photographs of contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad.

"Images of Ramana" / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
“Images of Ramana” / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2013 / Image courtesy EtP Archives
The black statue  / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
The black statue / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2013 / Image courtesy EtP Archives
"Images of Ramana" / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
“Images of Ramana” / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2014 / Image courtesy EtP Archives
"Images of Ramana" / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
“Images of Ramana” / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2013 / Image courtesy EtP Archives
"Images of Ramana" / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
“Images of Ramana” / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2012 / Image courtesy EtP Archives
"Images of Ramana" / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
“Images of Ramana” / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad  2012/ Image courtesy EtP Archives
"Images of Ramana" / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Image courtesy EtP Archives
“Images of Ramana” / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2014 / Image courtesy EtP Archives

“A different perspective altogether”

ANURAG SHARMA, Project 365 photographer will be documenting Tiruvannamalai town by depicting the ‘Imagery of Maharishi Ramana’. How Ramana’s images have occupied the place in the town, how is that the town is consuming his  images and how the images are floating in the space. To Anurag, the placement of Ramana’s images will depict the sentiment and icon of the town. At the outset, there appears to be a philosophical dichotomy – a saint who negated all the images of the existing world to realize ‘Self’, becoming the icon of the town. However, one feels the lingering presence of Ramana and find solace through these enduring images.

From Uttar Pradesh to New Delhi, Anurag has come a long way as a photographer, with his very own, very unique way of looking at places. He sees the power of an ‘invisible city’ almost everywhere. He not only observes city structures and urban spaces, but also envisions them as construction sites constantly in a process of metamorphosis. He sees cities devoid of people, which is reflected most poignantly in his marvellous photography. He very interestingly sees a potential ‘image’ everywhere he looks around.

What Anurag finds most captivating are scenes that are non-consequential, scenes that can easily be overlooked, but these are the very scenes that have the power to translate themselves into significant testimonials of urban spaces.

Anurag’s first camera was the Cosina C1s, which he bought incidentally when he was on his honeymoon and with that as a start, he went on to experiment, explore and learn more and more. He now undertakes professional photography assignments for prominent Indian and International companies specializing in ‘Industrial and Urban photography’.

He has made several contributions to Art and Deal magazine and a few other online platforms too, as a photo artist. His works have been exhibited in several galleries, fairs and festivals in Mumbai and New Delhi. One of his exhibitions was at the Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi (‘Parallel cities’ organized by Pro Helvetia – Swiss Art Council). Another moment of pride for Anurag was when his work was on display at the ‘Indian Art Festival’, Mumbai.

PICTURE CARDS FROM THE AGNI SHYLAM

Anurag will be presenting ‘these images of Ramana’ in the form of post [PICTURE] cards. Anurag says, “Postcards are universal vehicle to depict the ‘imagery of a city’ used traditionally by visitors as proof documents of their visit or to convey their messages to distant friends and family members. But one thing for sure, postcards travel. I was interested in their basic nature of ‘travel’ and decided to make post cards out of imagery of Bhagwan Ramana Mahirishi from Agni Shylam”.

"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
"Imagery of Maharishi Ramana" / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives
“Imagery of Maharishi Ramana” / Image (C) Anurag Sharma / Image courtesy Project 365 public archives

Disclaimer: All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of the author and belongs to EtP Archives. The profile of Anurag Sharma is written by Ami Gupta / EtP.

Prior permission is required to reproduce and / or and / or print in any form. If you need more information contact EtP at {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405 / ekalokam@gmail.com

 

PROJECT 365 – a 360degrees 365 days photo perambulation of the hill and the symbol

40 photographers document the ‘ancient culture and contemporary lifestyle’ in Tiruvannamalai
August 2014 – July 2015

Project 365 is a PUBLIC PHOTOGRAPHIC ART PROJECT initiated by EtP to photo-document the fast changing ancient culture and contemporary lifestyle of the ancient Tamilakam territory. During the first phase, forty photographers will be documenting the multi-cultural aspects of #Tiruvannamalai, South Indian heritage town over a year period (Aug 2014 – July 2015). This Project is led by contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. FOR MORE PROJECT 365 IMAGES, see #etpproject365. In the next five years, EtP will document the Sangam period ports Muziris, Tindis and the Cauvery basin culture and lifestyle.”

Agni Shylam series / Image (C) AKA / Image courtesy EtP
Agni Shylam series / Image (C) AKA / Image courtesy EtP

TIRUVANNAMALAI – an ancient South Indian heritage town

Experiments done by the Geological Survey of India revealed that the rock (charnockite) which makes up the Arunachala hill in Tiruvannamalai is older than 3.5 billion years and believed to have formed as a result of massive volcanic eruption. The fertile land around the hill was a highly potential farming land and soon became an important human settlement in South India. Tiruvannamalai is considered to be older than Mathurai (2ndSangam circa 1st century BCE). Many a legend and mythical story of Saiva belief grew around this hill revered as Fire, one of the pancha bhootas (Earth Water Fire Wind and Space Elements).

The first recorded history of the town dates back to the ninth century CE, as seen from Chola inscriptions in the Arunachaleshwara temple which states that the present masonry structure of the ancient temple was built during the same period by the Chola Dynasty (from 850 CE to 1280 CE). The temple, one of the largest in India, is rich in tradition, history and festivals. Hundreds and thousands of small and big Chola period inscriptions, architecture, sculpture and mural art can be found around the whole town. Saint poets like Tirunavukarasar, Appar, Pattinathar and Ramana Maharishi have created historical literature about Tiruvannamalai, the temple and the hill. The town is largely associated with living traditions and beliefs that have been recorded in literary works of outstanding universal significance.

Agni Shylam series / Image (C) AKA / Image courtesy EtP Archive
Agni Shylam series / Image (C) AKA / Image courtesy EtP Archives

Apart from the Cholas, Tiruvannamalai was ruled by the Pallavas, Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Carnatic kingdom, Tipu Sultan and the British. The architecture and art created collectively by the artists’ guilds of yesteryears with the patronage of the perennially warring, but ever culturally united rulers, stand as a museum of our culture and art.

Agni Shylam series / Image (C) AKA / Image courtesy EtP Archive
Agni Shylam / Image (C) AKA / EtP Archives

Karthikai Deepam is the most popular festival of Tiruvannamalai and inscriptions indicate that the festival was celebrated as early as the Chola period (3rd to 13th century BCE). As part of the festival, a massive wick is lit in a cauldron, at the top of the Annamalai Hill and to mark the occasion, several thousand people from the neighbouring villages gather. The visually fantastic event also has vibrant village markets and cattle fairs that are increasingly becoming obsolete. Every month during full moon, several thousand pilgrims perambulate around the Arunachala Hill.

Acclaimed photographers like PRS Mani, Dr.T.N. Krishnaswamy, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eliot Elisofon, G Govind Welling and many other known, and unknown photographers have created several bodies of photography works of Tiruvannamalai. The invaluable few works of these eminent photographers are being archived and preserved by Sri Ramana Ashram, Tiruvannamalai.

Agni Shylam series / Image (C) AKA / Image courtesy EtP Archive
Agni Shylam series / Image (C) AKA / Image courtesy EtP Archives

A pre-existently rich photographic history is presented in recent visual capture technologies. It is also seen to be supported in richly graphic descriptions of Tiruvannamalai’s rich and unparalleled vibrantly alive culturally all-inclusive life. These, and the peculiarly protean genius flowering amidst rural setting, increasingly amenable to international audience encourages EtP to do this long overdue visual mapping and documenting in a contemporary hi-definition documentation of this primordial town. Project 365 – Tiruvannamalai will collectively create and preserve the visual history of the paradigm shift moment of this ancient town.

<to be continued>

Disclaimer: Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Project 365 PUBLIC archives. All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of the author and belongs to PROJECT 365 PUBLIC ARCHIVES. Profile of Shiv Kiran by Ami Gupta / EtP. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and EtP (PROJECT 365 public archives). Prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing. For more information about Project 365, contact EtP at {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405 / ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Project 365