July 05, 2020
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A Nimbus Received

Our Sufis, saints and gurus are Indian culture’s biggest achievement—not gods, whom people across the world created

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A Nimbus Received
Divine Calling
Evening prayer, Jama Masjid, Delhi, 1982
Photograph by Raghu Rai
A Nimbus Received

The biggest attainment of humans is that they either managed to create a god for themselves or discovered divinity in saintly people. If you look at Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammad or Guru Nanak, the fact is that if they were gods, they would not have died. They came in human form, but they were pure souls connected with divine energy.  This energy pulsed through them, so their touch was healing for a sick person.

So many miracles happened, but if you look at history, which of the gods have ever come down to take care of mankind? Nobody. Had Ram been here, he wouldn’t have let the temple be razed; had Allah been here, he wouldn’t have let jihadis commit ­suicide bombings. No god has ever come down, nor will, ­regardless of what you do.

Up Above

The Dalai Lama at the Kalachakra event, Ladakh, 1975.

Photograph by Raghu Rai

Having said that, I feel faith—between human ­beings, between husband and wife, between friends, in society, with leaders—is special. It is an anchor, it keeps us going. Prayer is precious and dignified. When you pray, you concentrate with your mind, body and spirit, you align yourself with the name of Christ, Allah, or Ram. Once you connect with the divine energy, you ­become more ­focused and in tune with your raison d’etre. But regardless, god will not come for you. Don’t we say, god helps those who help themselves? It’s an indirect way of telling you to not waste time waiting for him.

If you decide that there is no god, you might feel insecure because the idea of god being there for us and taking care of us has been inculcated since childhood. Suddenly, you create immense space and possibilities—a tabula rasa, all empty. Our gurus, saints and people like the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa fill this void. The biggest achievement of Indians is our tradition of Sufis and saints, not gods—people all over the world created gods.

Spirit And Magic

Mother Teresa in Calcutta, 1970.

Photograph by Raghu Rai

I was born in a Hindu family. I go to temples as well as mosques, churches and gurdwaras to take pictures. Where they don’t allow me to take pictures, god does not exist for me, I won’t go in. I don’t want to make false connections—my connection is with my conscience and the world around me. My faith lies in the eyes of the people I photograph. I don’t go to a temple or a mosque in search of Ram or Allah, I only do darshan of people and see what’s inside their eyes.

My religion is to find the nature of human beings in their truest form without imposing my preconceptions. I have lived through instinct and with faith in the spirit and magic of the world—I refuse to be programmed. Nobody is born a genius, but if you keep yourself open to divine connections, you could be one of those few people who are simple and ordinary, yet stellar geniuses.

As told to Salik Ahmad

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