Tucked away in the Sabarimala hills of Kerala, in an ancient temple about 3,000 feet above mean sea level sits Lord Ayyappa, or Swami Ayyappa. Cloaked in black or blue, several million devotees brave the mountainous terrain to pay their respects to the celibate god, a son of Shiva and brother of Ganesha. It is the offshoot of this journey, a bitter aftertaste, that made photojournalist NP Jayan spend the past three years documenting what it is, and what it could be.
Through the show titled “Thathwamasi”, at the India International Centre (IIC) Annexe, Bangalore-based Jayan introduces the audience to wildlife that thrives in Sabarimala and the Periyar Tiger Reserve (the shrine is situated in the reserve’s buffer zone). His photographs show how, with every passing pilgrimage season, environmental degradation bags itself a couple of points. While photos of elephants, butterflies and moths of the Western Ghats speak for themselves, images of discarded material along the Pamba river show the man-made damage. “In 2011, over 100 pilgrims died in a stampede in Sabarimala, it is after that tragedy that I started work on this project. As a believer myself, I’m not against the pilgrimage; I just want people to be more conscious of the waste they leave behind. The authorities should also participate more actively in keeping the forests safe,” says the 41-year-old photographer. One of the photographs shows an adult female elephant, who was found dead in Periyar this past February, with more than two kg of plastic in her. Since the photographs were taken in and around a tiger reserve, Jayan has a host of pictures of the big cat too, but you won’t see them on IIC’s walls. “Every photographer puts of pictures of the tiger, but what about the rare kites, the frogs, the moths and the butterflies that you find here?” he says.
Curated by Uma Nair, the show which starts out as a treat for the eyes turns into something that leaves you unsettled, as unsightly garbage mounds replace verdant hills. Before “Thathwamasi”, Jayan spent a year in the Silent Valley, an evergreen tropical forest in
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Kerala’s Palakkad district. “This was also a silent campaign against a proposed dam across a river in the valley. The lion-tailed macaque found here faces extinction,” he says, agreeing that the photojournalist in him has taken on the role of a photoactivist.
After Delhi, Jayan’s photo documentation is slotted to travel to Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.
The exhibition is on at IIC Annexe till June 26. Call 24619431