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A traditional connect
Benoy K Behl's film and photographs were recently showcased at IGNCA. He spoke to Iknoor Kaur about putting his lifetime's worth into this project
Did you know that the Islamic Republic of Indonesia’s bank note has a Ganesha printed on it? Tokyo in Japan has scores of temples dedicated to Saraswati. Thailand, on all fashion street corners, has statues of Indian deities. Some significant deities that even Indians have forgotten are still worshipped in Japan. This is only a preview of India’s cultural impact in Asia. Well-known historian, filmmaker and photographer Benoy K Behl spent a large chunk of his life exploring the entire continent only to find India emerge richer. A part of his study in the field of Buddhism was showcased at Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts at an event called Nalanda Tradition of Buddhism in Asia. “In ancient times, Indians brought the concept of ethics and philosophical traditions to Asia and were welcomed with open arms. There is no parallel to such an exchange of ideas and the warm acceptance by the countries. In terms of tradition, Indians have been deeply respected. It is amazing to see how people look at us. When you go around exploring this there are marvellous things you come across,” shared Behl whose film The Nalanda Tradition Preserved by Tibet was also screened at the event along with a photo exhibition called The Greatest Journey of Ideas: the Spread of Buddhism.
According to Behl the film goes deep into the Nalanda Tradition. He said, “It is a whole vision of life which is free of any religious divisions or dogmas. It is an objective way of looking at the world around us. One can call it the study of life — what is knowledge in itself? How do you know if everything around you is real? It is an examination of your mind, reality and objectivity. I think it takes you to all areas of science, mathematics, psychology and tradition that spread from here to everywhere.”
Behl put 34 years of his documentation into this film. “I hold a chair in the Buddhist Study and have books on such subjects. I have over 34 years of documentation. So this is a product of lifetime research and analysis. Having travelled extensively, I have a broad horizon and an understanding of things in totality,” he elaborated.
When it comes to Buddhism, the compassion and peace in the subject attract his attention. He said, “I have been interested in all forms of philosophic thoughts and art. I think the transforming experience in my life was the many weeks of taking photographs of the Ajanta Caves. I found much grace, compassion, peace and beauty in Buddhist art.”
However, Behl is not interested in only one religion. “In my study of ancient Indian history there were no religions in India. Inscriptions show that people worshipped any deity they wanted to. This has been misrepresented through colonial scholarship. All of this is a science of mind, not religion. Dalai Lama rightly said, ‘Modern science is taking interest in ancient Indian thought.’ It is all objective and scientific, not religious,” he added. In his photo exhibition Behl covered Asia. He said he did that out of passion.
“There was a time I was making 26 films at a time. Passion comes from this beautiful vision of how humans can awaken that grace and vibe,” he summed up.
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