CREDOS : Faith in frames — I

A decade ago, photographer Dinesh Khanna set out to record his fellow Indians’ everyday lives and the country’s kaleidescopic culture. Two collections have come out of his journey: Bazaar (2001) and his new book, Living Faith: Windows Into the Sacred Life of India. As religious strife has disrupted India’s politics, Khanna was increasingly driven to tell a different story, of India’s extraordinarily peaceful religious diversity. He talked to Vibhuti Patel about his book and his nation.

How did you come to photography and this book?

My father was a photographer. I learned the basics from him. By 20, I had drifted into advertising. After 10 years, I quit. [Advertising is] a collaborative effort, and I had a personal vision I wanted to communicate. That’s how this journey started. Working in advertising, which is aimed at the middle-class, I realized there’s a whole country I wasn’t familiar with. I wanted to find that other India.

Why did you make faith your subject?

The practice of faith is so out there, so unabashed. People come for religious reasons to a temple or mosque, and a bazaar springs up. Commerce and faith are interlinked. India’s political leadership has borrowed alien frames and superimposed them on our eco-nomy and on our faith. Secularism in the minds of Indian intellectuals became non-religion, even anti-religion.

Did your own faith shape the book?

I myself am not religious. But in my travels, I came across a clear distinction between faith and religion: Faith is personal, instinctive, it does not need a body, a form, an outward expression. Religion is structured, it has a framework, it is vulnerable to manipulation. —