Five years ago, Radha Gomaty, a Cochin-based artist, was facing emotional turbulence in her life, and so she travelled to Varanasi to seek solace. She walked into the waters of the Ganges and let herself drift upstream freely — just to let go.
“When I opened my eyes, I saw crows fluttering close to my face, mistaking me to be a dead body. As I opened my eyes, they flew away,” says Gomaty.
That was an unparalleled moment of inner peace, moment of a transformative insight into life. She fell in love with the Ganges and felt an overwhelming gratitude towards the river.
A year later, Gomaty narrated her experience to Koumudi Patil from Kanpur and M. Shanthamani from Bangalore, two women she met at an art camp in Sikkim. The three then decided to undertake a journey from Gomukh to Ganga Sagar — on foot, by boat, by taxi — to make sense of the legendary river.
The result is: River, Body and Legends, a multimedia exhibition on at Mati Ghar, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. It is essentially a record of their life-transforming journey in sounds, words and images.
As you enter the circular Mati Ghar — a deliberately chosen venue for being a ‘flowing’ structure — you are transported to the mystical and magical ghats of Varanasi, thanks to the highly sensory nature of the show.
Sculptures, photographs, installations, videos etc, come together in the exhibition in perfect harmony as a telling narrative of the sacred river, with all its myths and legends.
While Gomaty did the sculptures, Patil and Shanthamani created installations and took pictures that evocatively capture life along the legendary river: The smoke-filled Ghats, the priests in saffron robes performing myriad rituals, the boatmen taking solace- seekers on a tour of the river.
“I wanted to understand the phenomenon called the Ganges. My journey helped me understand the relation between humans and nature,” says Shanthamani.
The exhibition also has on display some experimental art works such as Gomukh created in thread and paints; an installation called ‘a pillar of smoke’ capturing the smoke, smell and ashes at the burning Ghats of Varanasi; a typographical installation of over 4,000 letters of Ganga in Devnagari script woven in strings.
“The feminine body is also about flow. The show also seeks to capture the flow of the bodies of the three of us in relation to that of the fourth one—the Ganges,” says Gomaty.
The show is on till March 23.