Life and devotion along India's rivers


Noted independent arbitrator and mediator Jaya Prakash's passion for photography has led him to compile some special shots he took in a book titled Seeing Better - Along The River, which was launched at the Indian Heritage Centre on Monday.

It chronicles life and devotion along India's rivers.

"When I looked at my collection of photographs, I realised that when I went to India and walked through the spaces where they were taken, there was a lot of history and tradition behind them," he said. "I felt that it was important for my family to know some of these traditions as these are also rituals in which we take part in Singapore.

"I could see the connection between the rituals and ceremonies that take place in India. Maybe we don't have a Kumbh Mela, but we don't need a Kumbh Mela to understand what traditions are all about. After all, the root of all the stories in Hindu mythology is the same.

"So I thought that it would be nice to have a collection of images, but make it simple. With the images come a story, and that is what I have attempted to do with this book."

Kumbh Mela is a religious festival that is celebrated in India four times over 12 years on four sacred rivers and attracts millions of pilgrims.

Mr Jaya visited India three times between 2013 and 2018 along with his wife Judith Prakash, a Supreme Court judge, and took more than 1,000 photos of religious festivities and fervour in Varanasi and Kolkata with Nikon D4 and D5 cameras.

"It took me some time to collate and catalogue them and decide which ones to select for the book," he said. "It was very tough because some photos looked very good but they were very static. I wanted them to be a little bit out of the ordinary. If they conveyed some message or emotion, then for me that was important."

Clearly, Mr Jaya, whose love for photography began in 1965 when he was gifted a box camera, wanted to convey the spiritual bond that connected people from all over India.

"As far as the Durga Puja is concerned, I have a connection with the Navaratri festival in Singapore and could connect with what they were doing in Bengal, although the people there took it very, very seriously," he said. "When I looked at the photos I took, I said to myself that there are people who live in a condominium and they must have had many arguments over various things. But, when it came to Durga Puja, they were all united and were one in celebrating it. That was quite interesting for me."

At the Kumbh Mela in Varanasi in 2013, Mr Jaya focused on capturing the moods of ordinary people, rather than the Naga sadhus (naked religious ascetics), whose photos are periodically splashed across the world.

"I went as a visitor rather than a pilgrim and was more concerned about how the ordinary people went about doing their ablutions in the Ganges and how they looked when they had finished their prayers," he said. "Many of them appeared poor, but they seemed contented. I then realised that this must be the effect of the pilgrimage."

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, who was the guest of honour at the launch, "enjoyed reading the book tremendously".

He said: "I felt like I was there myself, witnessing the rituals and the preparations - so powerful are the words juxtaposed with the photos. He (Mr Jaya) has turned something ordinary - everyday life - into something extraordinary. It is important to record our heritage, culture and traditions so that the generations that come after us understand who they are and where they come from."

Mr Jaya, who started experimenting with camera lenses only in the 1990s, admitted that he doesn't look at capturing images from a technical viewpoint. "I wait for an image to take shape," he said. "I have stood in a Land Rover watching a leopard on a tree for an hour and a half, just waiting for it to get to a position where I could get a nice shot. So, patience is important to get that nice shot."

He published his first book of photos, Seeing Better, in 2012. It was a compilation of candid shots he took of animals, birds, buildings and landscapes during his travels to different parts of the world.

The second was Seeing Better In Ladakh, which was published in 2015 after his journey to the Himalayas in June 2014 with his wife following a very trying period of acute renal failure.

Seeing Better - Along The River ($60) can be purchased at

All proceeds from the sale of the book on Monday went to the Indian Heritage Centre.


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