In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Walking by Narmada
  • Nandita Raman (bio)

A place: “Spots”—as my driver put it while picking me up from Pendra Road station (Chhattisgarh, India). He was trying to understand why Shrinkhla and I were planning to walk on the Narmada pilgrimage route for a week, advancing at a pedestrian’s pace, when he could drive the one thousand three hundred miles from the source of the river to the mouth of the ocean, stopping at all the scenic views–spots–for photos in ten days.

Another place: Mai Ki Bagiya (Mother’s lap). This was the starting point for the pilgrimage. There were couple of temples and the ugliness of religion. Priests recited word halves, swallowing the rest. A number of people were assembled in clusters. We approached one such group and asked to join. There were two or three men, a young boy and five or six women. It was important for us that there were women in the group. It made us feel safer. We had wished to go on this journey by ourselves but were told and told and told that it wasn’t safe for two women to travel alone.

Place: Shiva temple, just off the route. We hadn’t walked for a complete hour yet when our group stopped by the steps going downhill. One of the women in the group read my expression and said, “Areee this is how it’s done. You stop at one temple, go in, do your puja then stop at next one. What’s the hurry for?”

Place: Path along the Sal trees, Narmada on our right. Our companions were from a village on the north bank of the river. Most pilgrims undertaking this three-year, three-months and thirty-days long circumambulatory journey on foot were from villages along the river Narmada. City folks preferred our driver’s method.

We had dressed modestly in a kurta and salwar but it was quite obvious that we were no villagers. There were many curious questions from both sides. Why are we doing this pilgrimage? Will we be able to walk so much? Do our parents know? Did we run away from home? Married? Children? Why are you doing this? Where are you from? What do you do there? How long since you started on this journey? How many hours do you walk per day? What’s the plan for today? [End Page 40]

The last two questions yielded a blank, confused expression. Dismissing the questions, the leader of the group asked about my caste. “I don’t have a caste,” I said. “No! How can that be, everyone has a cast, you are born into it. That’s the difference between civilized people and animals.”

Place: Approaching a Dharamshala. It was afternoon and having settled our curiosities, we were walking quietly now. A sadhu called out from behind a small tin gate, “Come, come the wood for fire is ready. I have supplies. Come make your food. You can spend the night here too.” Along the pilgrimage route, many basic lodging and cooking facilities are provided by religious groups. In more remote patches, villagers open their homes. Pilgrims must cook their own food and only carry a change of clothes, a few utensils and grains. Money doesn’t exchange hands. All facilities are gratis. Sadhu called again, “Come, Come. How many are you all?” My group began to sway towards the gate. “No. No,” I implored “but there is still a few hours of daylight left. We haven’t walked far. Look, we haven’t reached anywhere.” But reaching anywhere was not the objective of this undertaking.


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Relief map of India, Varanasi. Photo: Courtesy the artist.

[End Page 41]


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Floor plan of the temple Mai Ki Bagiya (Mother’s lap) with impression of my foot. Etching, gouache on paper. Photo: Courtesy the artist.


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In Shrinkhla’s Feet. Photogravure on paper. Photo: Courtesy the artist.

[End Page 42]

Nandita Raman

NANDITA RAMAN is an image-based artist and educator. Her artistic practice also extends into curatorial work. Rooted in photography...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 40-42
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-14
Open Access
No
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