SANJIB SEN:FOLLOWING KALI'S SCENTS
Sanjib’s images give us islands of strong, stealthy energy where beauty grapples with the grotesque, and the fierce – we have to look afresh at these resulting masterpieces and know that Kali is a uniter, a conferrer of calm and not a divider, writes Uma Nair.
When a photographer spends 15 years of his life in search of Kali – the black goddesses – his work has to be one that fuels both faith and fantasy. Sanjib Sen a commercial photographer has a very important advantage compared to all of us. His long tassels of curly hair, his towering height and his entire countenance could make him pass for a Tantric and this is how he can get into the sanctum sanctorum and photograph the agile, graceful feet of the goddess Kali at the Tarapeet temple. Beautiful slender brass feet with anklets and the proverbial red hibiscus as a leitmotif of the ritual. Sanjib's collection of Kali images verge on the esoteric and the eternal quest of the pilgrim.
History and myth
To us who read and hear of the many bhaktas doing Kali puja each year on certain moonless nights, Kali is more than a goddess striding across a turbulent landscape filled with mottled cloud like formations. We can imagine Kali as an embodiment of power, her quick swishing skirt swirling in animation with her necklace composed of strands of human skulls, at once echoing the flaying movement of her ten arms. In that epoch Kali is a cosmic circle of sacred and fearful energy. This historic and mythic depiction gives us a subliminal understanding of the power of the goddess Kali.
"No one has told me to travel miles, but I just get out of Delhi and go," says Sanjib . "As a spiritual person myself, who spends three hours in puja every day the pull is intangible, I cant explain it. And when I find it, my gaze always goes to the feet and the red hibiscus flowers." Sanjib's oeuvre of different Kalis ooze with a dramatic air of theatricality.
The iconic hibiscus blossoms, have long served as artistic inspiration. The hibiscus epitomises brevity and sacred beauty. When you see the hibiscus at the bottom of the pedestal or the feet it aspires to amplify the sense of renewal and rhythm of devotion.
Sen a commercial photographer who passed out from Delhi College of Art uses his holidays to go in search of the scents and smells of goddess Kali. 20 years of visiting Kali temples and shooting different images of Kali Shakti exemplifies his devotion and his deep understanding of the truth that Kali has about her an aura of benevolent abstraction – a spiritual core that can only be tasted and felt after you have walked the distance of devotional depths to enter into her karmic intensities through her many pacified forms other than her wrathful energy.
"When I decided to explore Kali temples all over India in remote places I realised that if the temple is crowded, packed with people, women, men, children, as it often happens there, you must push through, find space, wait and let the crowd carry you through the corridors, so that, when you suddenly find yourself in front of Her, the spiritual surprise blends with the deepest impact that you cannot at first understand," recalls Sanjib. "But I found great depth and great beauty in many minor temples, in Orissa, Guwahati where I would go when it was early, it was calm, where I could study and also pray in the presence of the Goddess not just Her image but in Her Presence. Kali has a quality of vivid reality."
"There are many manifestations of Kali – in one temple I found just the hibiscus flower with a few jasmines it made such a statement – its as if you're overwhelmed by a world of scents and spices and flowers. At some temples you have rivers of red pouring over the Black Goddess, at her feet, on her limbs, on her tongue. The power of her arms, the outline of her necklace of skulls, her gaping mouth. The image that stays with you is that whether she is grey/purple/ black, small/ towering she is always striking and emanates immense energy."
Sanjib's images range from a walled image with a single hibiscus and a few jasmine florets to a host of other images that dwell on her expressionist details. In one image the black goddess is a fragment festooned in red powder, yet another is an oblique view of Kali's gaze amidst the many flowers and ornamentations.
"When you stand in front of Kali you surrender yourself," says Sanjib, "I can never forget Swami Vivekananda saying he bowed to goddess Kali in an 'ecstasy of joy' and started repeating her name. When you stand before the Divine Mother you realise that she is 'living and conscious, full of divine love and beauty'. So as a devotee, my prayers are always for divine knowledge and devotion, and for eternal divinity."
Sanjib's Kali images force you to encounter her manifestations, and ponder about the core of her tantric spiritual path. Between the abstract studies and the many colour tones she represents the breaking of patterns, of preconceived forms and notions. Kali-Ma for Sanjib is the goddess of pure energy, the Mother to whom wonderful chants of praise and offerings were dedicated by the mystic bhakta of the 19th century.
"As Goddess and as Mother, she destroys to transform, to purify and to finally welcome the devotee into her luminous energy as Shiva's Bride," affirms Sanjib as he readies for a night of chants and syllables all attuned to Goddess Kali. Clad in a vermillion chaadar Sanjib becomes a symbol of someone who has for those few hours left the cares of a world that abounds in the chaos and chimera of toils and struggles to live in the modern millennium.
You can look back and forth at these images – they remind us that Kali is the Black One, she lives in Elemental Darkness, Kali is the ultimate destroyer, and Shakti, the destroyer of ignorance and evil in the world. Sanjib's treatment in handling the abstract quotients of the Black Goddess visibly remind us that she is Maa – The Cosmic Mother .
Sanjib's images teach us – they inform and educate, and embrace the human mind, and lead us into an unheard, unsaid incantation which tells us to understand that Kali – was/is Time incarnate – by destroying the evil present she protects the future. Sanjib gives us islands of strong, stealthy energy where beauty grapples with the grotesque, and the fierce – we have to look afresh at these resulting masterpieces and know that Kali is a uniter, a conferrer of calm and not a divider.
IMAGES: SANJIB SEN STUDIO