Society

A photography series on south India’s churches during lockdown

By this time every year, Madurai-based human resource mentor Nicholas Francis is usually out on a vacation that he describes as a structured activity to capture the uniqueness of the exterior and interior beauty of churches in different cities across south India.

At the beginning of 2020, he was driving past scenic tea estates in Idukki district, Kerala, when an imposing granite shrine up a flight of 100-odd steps on the Thekkady-Peermede Road caught his attention. With castle-like cylindrical towers on its side, Our Lady of Good Health church, perched on top of a green hill in Pattumala and flanked by two huge Christmas trees on either side, was a sight to behold, says Nicholas.

He could not resist looking at the beautiful design through the lens of his Canon DSLR 1200 as the cotton-ball clouds floated in the azure sky to create a perfect backdrop.

Inspired beginnings

A photography series on south India’s churches during lockdown

It was a habit Nicholas had picked up during his Mammallapuram trip in 2016, when he veered off to Puducherry. The history and aesthetics of the 300-year-old Immaculate Conception Cathedral inspired the photographer in him. Built and rebuilt thrice, first by the French, then the Dutch and then the British, the Goan-Portuguese edifice with high dome paintings, center altar, coloured window panels and ancient art murals left Nicholas with a passion.

A photography series on south India’s churches during lockdown

Over the next four years, he toured Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu to discover the lesser known and rediscover the popular churches. “The difference in church architecture and Christmas decorations, the old and the new designs, the ornate domes, towers and spires, the use of colours and the often stunning backdrops fascinated me enough to go on a new route each winter,” says Nicholas.

A photography series on south India’s churches during lockdown

From the imposing St.Philomena's Cathedral in Mysuru to the igloo-shaped Church of Morning Star in Velankanni, every structure he found to be a piece of delectable architecture. "I randomly stopped by churches where specific features attracted me," he says.

All-in-one captures

He never imagined winter 2020 would apply brakes to his photographic travels. Yet something drove him during lockdown months to visit churches in Tamil Nadu, especially in and around Madurai. An image that has stuck with him this year is of the Lady of Lourde’s Church in K. Pudur , where he saw an elderly man standing outside the closed gate and praying intensely.

A photography series on south India’s churches during lockdown

“With empty roads and closed shops, the enormity of the situation was visible all around,” he says and adds, “the feeling of loneliness and emptiness, and the power of prayer, co-exist and were captured in that single shot.”

He spotted lesser known and newly constructed churches. The magnificence of the main altar of Our Lady of Dollars Church in Mettupatty near Dindigul or the empty altar and the majestically pillared corridor of the St.Michael's Cathedral in Coimbatore captivated him for modern designs and lay-out. On Christmas eve, he went to Madurai's iconic St.Mary's Cathedral built in 1841.

A photography series on south India’s churches during lockdown

“It is a beautiful blend of Roman and European architecture done in a simple combination of white and blue on the outside. The colours synced with the afternoon blue sky and cotton candy puffs of clouds above. The sight filled me with hope and cheer,” he says.

“A place of worship is an emotionally powerful experience, and essentially internal. When we freeze the riveting images or profound moments, it deepens our understanding of, and connection with everything around us,” says Nicholas, hoping the new year ushers in joyous tidings.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 4:41:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/photographic-tales-of-churches-of-south-india/article33416249.ece

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