A decade ago, photographer Dinesh Khanna set out to record his fellow Indiansâ€™ everyday lives and the countryâ€™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 Indiaâ€™s politics, Khanna was increasingly driven to tell a different story, of Indiaâ€™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. Thatâ€™s how this journey started. Working in advertising, which is aimed at the middle-class, I realized thereâ€™s a whole country I wasnâ€™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. Indiaâ€™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. â€” Beliefnet.com