Ever wondered what goes on inside those tucked-away Himalayan monasteries? As you might imagine, not too much.
But Kaushal Parikh was drawn to that simplicity. Last year, the Mumbai-based photographer was attending a workshop in India when he stumbled across a small monastery and "immediately hit it off with the head monk." The result of his five days in that monastery is a simple "day in the life" photo story — and some valuable life lessons.
Parikh was most surprised to discover that not everyone in a Tibetan monastery is male. "There was a nun," he writes in an e-mail. "Her husband died shortly after her second child was born. She needed a place of refuge and the monastery took her in. ... Her most repeated phrase was 'I happy!'"
Anila, a Tibetan nun, lights candles at the monastery in Manali.
In fact, according to Parikh, monasteries in India are a twofold source of refuge: for Tibetans, estranged by Chinese control; and for social pariahs, who have "been ostracized by their families or whose families [are] no more." At the monastery, monks and nuns find a new family. Parikh responded to a few more questions:
Picture Show: What did you learn about the monk lifestyle?
The most obvious thing I learned ... was detachment. They lead simple lives and are attached to no material pleasures. They are content with what they have and they derive their happiness through prayer and serving others. Their food is simple — often consisting of just some Tibetan bread, a simple vegetable and loads of Tibetan tea (doused with butter!).
What was really amusing was to see the monks joking with each other and teasing each other. ... The nicest thing was that they all seemed to have chosen and accepted this life, and none of them looked like they were forced to do anything in particular, or feel a certain way.
What did you take away from this project?
Professionally, I learned how to slowly gain the trust of my subjects and how to become a part of their lives — to shoot with respect and always maintain the dignity of my subjects.
Personally, I realized that our material obsession is unhealthy and leads to an unsatisfying and incomplete life. Our cynicism and obsessive natures are what make us an unfriendly people today. These monks are not allowed into their own country — and live in a small monastery in a foreign land — and yet they open their home to everyone, and treat everyone with equal respect. When I started shooting, my focus was getting the photographs; but somehow, slowly, because of the kind nature of my hosts, my focus shifted to getting to know the monks better. The photographs were just a natural byproduct
See more of Parikh's work on his website.