The holy city of Benaras on the banks of the River Ganges has been a site of pilgrimage for millennia and a source of inspiration for artists over centuries. From the eighteenth-century paintings of William Hodges, the nineteenth-century photographs of Samuel Bourne, the canvases of Ram Kumar and Maqbool Fida Husain, and here, in this exquisite sculpture by Meera Mukherjee, the ghats or steps lining the river remain a timeless backdrop against which the unceasing cycle of life unfolds. In this remarkable vignette in bronze, the artist captures with great dexterity and individuality, a scene on the bustling riverside steps, replete with activity and energy.
- Puja Beneath Parasols
The parasols lining the steps of the ghats are a quintessential element of the immortal image of Benaras. Worshippers seated beneath these parasols chant hymns as they offer homage to the departed souls of ancestors in the effort to enable their peaceful transition to the other world.
- Making Their Way Down the Slippery Steps
Upon the conclusion of rites, offerings are immersed in the river. Pilgrims treading gingerly on the slippery steps as they make their way down to the water is a commonly encountered sight.
- Birds and Boats
Birds skim the water’s surface, ritual offerings floating in the river jostle alongside boats moored at the bank, creating an affecting portrayal of the quotidian and eternal melding effortlessly.
- Taking a Holy Dip
A dip in the holy waters of the sacred river Ganges is believed to wash away sins and rejuvenate both body and soul. Here we see a half-submerged devotee taking a dip and offering oblations to the sun and to water – both sources of life.
The water itself, in spite of Mukherjee’s solid medium, is awash with movement, represented through the rippling coils of bronze. To create this effect the artist fashioned and incorporated individual strands of wax into the original model which then had to be manipulated with great skill and patience to achieve the desired effect.