One cannot deny what a photogenic place Varanasi can be — the kaleidoscopic colours, the mad flurry of activities, the uninhibited curiosity of the locals — there is no place in the world quite like this. Some people come here for a few days, some for a few weeks, some for years, some come here to spend the rest of their lives and even more come to die. Once here, home seems to be worlds away. I want so desperately to capture all I can; I wish my eyes were a camera, my eyelids the shutter and every blink the permanent imprint of an image.

This whole city is a complete enigma, so full of character and contrasts that it is hard not to go about with a perpetually bemused expression. The challenge is in trying to come to terms with what initially seems like ridiculous contradictions surrounding the city — the conflict between the people’s unyielding belief in the city’s sacredness and the obvious lack of proper waste management infrastructure; the lives Ganga supports and the ones she snatches away through water-borne diseases; the display of respect for the river one moment and the thoughtless disposal of waste into it the next.

This project is for Ganga, for her children and for everyone else to whom she might matter, in some way or another.

Child of Ganga has since been developed into a hardcover publication of over 100 images and accompanying texts comprising information and statistics from accredited sources, quotations from various scriptures and influential figures, interview transcripts and personal reflective reportages. For a more personal account of my experiences working on this project, you may visit the online journal I kept during my time in Varanasi: childofganga.wordpress.com.

The freezing cold water of Ganga in winter does not deter the faithful from their early morning rituals

What used to be the Asi River (a tributary of Ganga) is now better known as Nagwa Nala, or Nagwa Drain

Dhobis washing and drying clothes by Ganga are a huge part of the riverside facade

Flute sellers playing tantalizing melodies are common along the ghats

A girl washes her hair in a "public bathroom"

The Yadavs are a caste traditionally associated with cattle rearing and herding

A man whose family member has passed away awaits his turn to get his head shaved

While most of the city's inhabitants are strict vegetarians, there is a fairly-sized community of people who depend on the river for food

Many dead organisms line the banks of Ganga

A young boy from the Yadav caste

Poor municipal waste management is particularly evident during the Muslim festival of sacrifice, known in the region as Bakrid

Yoga

Young Brahmins (a dominant caste in Hinduism) practice yoga by the river bank every morning.

Ganga Aarti

In a display of humility and gratitude towards Ganga Ma, the Ganga Aarti is a ceremonial worship ritual involving the waving of lit oil lamps on the banks of the river. At present, the Ganga Aarti at the Dasaswamedh Ghat is one of the prime attractions of Varanasi—loved by locals and foreigners alike—and is performed daily by seven Brahmins decked out in elaborate finery.

Shankha

A shankha is a conch shell with great religious significance in Hinduism. It is blown loudly by the river bank every evening to invoke the spirit of Ganga.


Exhibitions:

  • Engaging Possibilities Design Show, Temasek Convention Centre, 27-31 March 2009
  • Illuminate Portfolio Show for Young Designers, Suntec Convention Centre, 24-27 November 2009

Features:

  • Berita Minggu, 5 April 2009
  • The New Paper on Sunday, 12 April 2009
  • Shin Min Daily News, 12 April 2009
  • SUTRA Magazine, April 2010 issue

Contact:

Please contact Nadia for more information on this project and for permission to reproduce any material on this page.