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Divine Moments

The donkey and divinity

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The days of challenges are over for me - Because challenges can cause commotion and a lot of noise - It's time to breeze into the inner spaces and capture the aura of things, Preferably in silence.

- RAGHU RAI

That Raghu Rai's photographs are distinctive warrants no repetition. But the reason they are so is because Raghu Rai has, in his own words, "allowed the supreme energy to work through (him)". And that's why he has titled a five-city exhibition of his selected photographs that hit the road from Kolkata last weekend Divine Moments. Photos from his globally acclaimed series on Mother Teresa, Indira Gandhi and India and its people provide not only rare visual delights, but take the viewer on a spiritual journey. What makes this exhibition very different from his earlier ones is that Rai, for the first time, explains his philosophy on life and his works to the viewer.

A very philosophical piece penned by Rai greets visitors as they enter the gallery. Its first lines read: "He uproots me, tosses me in the air - Freezes me for a moment in space and whispers. . . Here are two conditions before you land - One is you will not step on the steps you have taken before, . . . Secondly, you shall not step on the steps taken by others. Such is the mercy and grace of my Lord. The idea of God creating and installing numerous possibilities in each one of us in doable distance has never diminished my sense of wonder. . . ". Raghu Rai is a deeply spiritual being. Talking to TOI-Crest from his Delhi home, Rai says the "final connection in creativity is connectivity with the divine". The ultimate purpose of creativity is to allow the supreme energy to manifest itself through you in your works, he says.

Though some of the photographs in this exhibition, like his first - the 1965 one of a baby donkey - or of a middle-aged couple on the terrace of an old mansion in Kolkata, have nothing overtly to do with divinity, Rai explains that there's more to those photos than just images and moments captured on film. "When I work, moments of concentration give way to moments of meditation. That is when a moment of realisation occurs and this moment is divine. It finds reflection in your work, " he says. "In this I disagree with many, like Satyajit Ray - one of the greatest geniuses India had - who deny the existence of the supernatural. There comes a time when the mind, the intellect, becomes secondary and you have to open up to the supreme energy. Every individual has to go beyond himself and wait for the supernatural to work through him or her. "

Raghu Rai says his 'Guruji' (Nirmal Singhji Maharaj) has a profound influence on his life and works. "Guruji used to say: 'If you come into my space and accept me as your Guru, all you have to do is connect with me'. Life is all about connecting, with people, with nature, with your work. If you can truly connect with your work, the vision of anything that you do will be larger. For instance, if a good writer is writing on a speech of a politician, he will go beyond the words spoken by that politician and will study the gestures, the body language and then close his eyes to meditate on the spirituality or the lack of it of the speech. The piece he writes will be much more in sum and substance than mere reportage".

It is apparent from Raghu Rai's works that he makes the vital connection with his subject(s). That's how he produces such profound photos of the silhouette of Indira Gandhi against the Himalayas, or of a widow and a cow separated by the trunk of a large tree on the banks of the Hooghly in Kolkata staring at an idol of Goddess Durga with a country boat in the background.

It is of critical importance, says Rai, to go beyond one's ego and immediate needs to attain a certain level of spirituality that'll then dictate one's works. "One has to be open to yet another encounter, yet another new experience. This is what feeds creativity. One has to be ruthless with oneself. And then the magic will go on, " says Rai. In his case, the magic truly goes on. Because it is a magic fed by spirituality.

'Divine Moments' is presented by The Seagull Foundation for the Arts in association with Vacheron Constantin and Tasveer and will be on at the Foundation's gallery in Kolkata till July 24 before travelling to New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Ahmedabad

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