Friday, 18 September 2009

The BraveHearts


The BraveHearts

India Express, September 18th 2009

They are free from fear. They are The Valiant Ones. Soldiers of God, the Guru’s knights, also originally known as the Akalis, the Nihangs are the warriors, keepers of the faith...Dressed in dark blue loose apparel, armed, with horses as their constant companions, the Nihangs are enigmatic and mysterious. “They are larger than life and there’s so much that we don’t know of and about them,’’ Gurbir Singh Brar takes you through his photo exhibition titled, The Valiant Ones. It’s a journey into the mesmerizing world of the Nihangs, in pictures, in colour, with feelings. An engineer in the US, Brar has been bitten by the shutter bug for the last 12 years and has been working with seasoned photographers in the US and capturing the lifestyle of traditional societies around the world.

This time, Gurbir has devoted his skills to documenting the colours of his homeland Punjab and is soaking in all the love and attention that his work is getting him. “This was a project that was close to my heart, and I spent eight months with the various Nihang dals, travelling with them and being a part of their life. Initially, it was tough to get through to their leaders and gain their trust, for there were many issue that they did not want to speak about, but finally it all worked out well,’’ Brar has clicked as many as 8,000 pictures and agrees it’s been an enormous challenge, one that’s completely absorbed him. “And they are happy with the results, with their pictures put up at various places.’’ The young photographer did extensive research, reading up and consulting 40-50 books on Nihangs, both old and new and sourcing information to complement the pictures. “I feel photographs are a perfect way to document history, each picture speaks and youngsters can connect better to pictures and the past, than they can do with dull and heavy history lessons.


The National Geographic model of telling a story with pictures, rather than text, really works well,’’ Brar says back in the US, photographers use a lot of artificial light and he too has used the technique to improvise. As Nihangs have a set schedule, with travel plans for a year planned in advance, Brar made arrangements to travel with them to various villages and captured their life, various moods, activities and expressions. “What touched me most about them was their hospitality and discipline. Their language is soft and sweet and I am now all set to work on a coffee table book and documentary on the subject,’’ Brar talks about the Sava Lakh Foundation which exhorts the younger generation to live up to the ideals of the Gurus. The effort includes a training programme in martial arts as well.


Sikh Nugget: Baba Meher Singh who learnt Shastarvidyia from late Baba Santa Singh

The pictures and creative briefs with each photograph, get the viewers close to these enigmatic people, be it shots of their unique traditional horsemanship, martial arts, work for the community, their life in the kitchen, their relationship with their horses, the dances, a glimpse of their personal life, camaraderie...it’s a riot of colours and emotions. What’s more, as part of the exhibition, there was breathtaking display of Shasta Vida and horsemanship by various Nihang Dals.

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