The magazine of the photo-essay
Aug 2016 back issue
by Siddhartha Banerjee
A Story of Faith India
A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous! Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
Faith makes a man move mountains. It is seldom reason and mostly faith that makes a man cross barriers, struggle hard, sacrifice his well-being. Historically, there have been many stories of faith, where men did what reason would never allow them to do. This reportage is one such story, a story of a day where men, women and children struggle in the name of faith. India is a vast country, with many different people and many different faiths and customs. This reportage is about a lesser known, lesser reported and yet a very old custom that takes place every year in the district of Howrah in West Bengal.  It is from a time when there wasn’t a cure for small pox and people turned to faith and the Goddess Setala; a Hindu Goddess, who is said to have magical powers to cure diseases. The custom started then, long back, and continues today, even though small pox has been eradicated. The whole event takes place around the 108 temples of the Goddess Setala built in the district of Howrah, West Bengal, and is generally celebrated in the month of February. I had the fortune of visiting it this year, and trying to understand how faith moves a mass. The rituals began at dawn, when men and women started praying inside the temples and lighting candles outside to drive out the darkness. They took a holy dip in the Ganges and then travelled up the path from the Ghats of Ganges to the temples on their chests, which is commonly known as Dondi. Men and women practice Dondi to seek the well-being of themselves and their families. Children are usually kept out of the crawl and remain at the sides of the roads to watch. Some are struck with fear as they see their parents suffering pain.  Sometimes, children are made part of this holy crawl in the belief that it will help their future prosperity. Hundreds and thousands of devotees came from all parts of Bengal. By the afternoon the struggle of the Dandi, had faded away and the festival turned to all things joyful. The crowds in the narrow streets increased and the processions started. The police and the NCC cadets, who otherwise did a great job, started facing difficulties. Men, often drunk with liquor, danced forgetting all the pains of their lives. Children, dressed like mythical characters, marched along. Street drummers played music. The complete scenario of the festival changed. From what started as a struggle of faith, now seemed like a relief, sent by the Goddess Setala.
“Faith is seeing light with all your heart when all your eyes see is darkness”
Devotees praying.
Children made part of the struggle.
A child watching his father take the Dondi with fear.
Even the policemen can do nothing against faith.
Women entering the temple.
The praying never stops.
The crowded ghats of the Ganges.
Some mothers take the path of God for the well-being of their children while another just breast feeds.
A child at the Ghats surrounded by his family.
A possessed woman. People, most often women, get so taken over by the festival that they are thought to be possessed by the Goddess Setala, other Gods or demons.
A woman possessed by the Gods, taken for a holy bath.
Holy bath at the Ganges.
NCC cadets and scouts trying to maintain order.
The struggles of faith.
A woman possessed by demons.
Children dressed as demons, Gods and Godesses.
A street drummer and his band.
People forget the pain they suffered earlier in the day and indulge in dancing on the streets.
Back to menu Back to current issue