“I love Udvada in the monsoon,” said photographer Shantanu Das. “The charming old-style bungalows, the little lanes and the slow-paced life have a certain charm which is fading fast in this world where no one has the time to stop and take a breath.” Its memory must be preserved, he says.
There are many memories embedded in Udvada. A quaint, quiet coastal town in Gujarat, it is home to the oldest and holiest fire temple of the Zoroastrian community. In it burns their highest grade of sacred fire, the Aatash Behram, for over 100 years.
Das’s photographs of Udvada, put together in a coffee table book in 2012, don’t capture the religiosity of its fire temple. However, they do present the town’s picturesqueness and its sad decline. An exhibition of the images is on display at Delhi’s India International Centre until April 20.
“It was during a conversation with (businessman) Parvez Damania almost six years ago that Udvada was brought to my attention,” said Das. “Damania has been visiting the place all his life and one day he suggested we take a trip there together. I loved the place since day one.” After that, Das returned five-six times over two years to photograph the one-horse town 200 km away from Mumbai.
On these trips, Das focused on the lives of the resident Zoroastrian community, its traditions and the town’s architecture. The images give a peek into the houses of Udvada’s people, their kitchens and living rooms. “I once got to visit an old bungalow with these beautiful wooden steps which led to the home of an old lady who was sitting and making kustis [a holy thread worn by Parsis],” said Das. “You won’t find such a scene anywhere else in India.”
Not being a Parsi himself, Das was not allowed inside the fire temple, so he spent his days outside taking pictures.
The project focuses solely on Udvada and its way of life, clarifies Das – it is not an “overall view of the Parsi community”. “The aim was to preserve the memory of the customs, traditions still followed by the people who live here,” said Das. “Over the years, the structures of Udvada have fallen into disrepair. The hotels and buildings have a damaged, almost derelict look about them.”
Udvada: A Photographic Exhibition, is on from April 14 to April 20, 11am-7pm, at Art Gallery, India International Centre Annexe, Lodhi Road, New Delhi.
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