Colours of Devotion

Photographer Rajesh Bedi's latest book is replete with vim and vigour of the seekers of salvation.

One doesn't become a sadhu simply by wearing saffron," says photographer Rajesh Bedi. Better known for his series on wildlife, Bedi first came across sadhus as a child in his home in Haridwar. Now, 63 years and countless images later, he has published his second coffee table book Sadhus: The Seekers of Salvation. An exhibition of photographs from the book at Delhi's Shridharani Gallery tells of his fascination with those on a spiritual journey. Excerpts from an interview:

How different is it to shoot wildlife and sadhus?

In both cases, one has to understand the environment and respect the subject. Before shooting sadhus, we have to find out from locals when they wake up, sleep and meditate. While an angry animal can attack, an angry sadhu can turn us away. Both wildlife and genuine sadhus are becoming rare.

What were your first encounters with a camera?

A cow was one of my earliest subjects; I was about 18 then. My father Ramesh Bedi was a botanist and that ,I think, paid for his passion for photography. Even when we were in junior school, my brother and I had to clean the dark room. Sometimes, the washroom would be converted into a dark room.

How were you introduced to sadhus?

I was born in Haridwar, so we saw sadhus all the time. They would come home often to ask for bhiksha and I was curious about them. They were a favourite topic with my father too, so I had ample interactions with them.

The Kumbh features prominently in your current work. Is it an extension of your faith?

I am not a religious person, though I have been to four Kumbh melas. It's difficult to describe the atmosphere of the surging crowds united in faith. One returns from the Kumbh calmer, knowing that one must surrender to a higher power to gain salvation. My first Kumbh mela was in Allahabad, around 36 years ago. It was a cold, rainy day and the ground was slippery. It was difficult to walk or even shoot.

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