Stories from the Road: Prayer in Kumbhalgarh Fort

Stories from the Road is a collection of stories about my own photographic adventures in South Asia. Sometimes the stories are exciting and sometimes mundane and at times emotional. This section deals with vernacular photography and the way we all experience the photographs we see. What they meant when we took them and what they mean over time.

Experiencing a Hindu Prayer at Kumbhalgarh Fort

A few months ago, I took a day trip to Kumbhalgarh with Brad and two other people we did not know. Kumbhalgarh is a fort about 80 kilometers north of Udaipur. Oddly I have not shown any of the photographs on the blog yet. I guess life got busy with Holi and my mom visiting and Kumbhalgarh got overshadowed. However, I had a nice experience there.

The photograph above show the wall above a doorway to a temple area. It is situated in the back-left hand corner of a large opening in the structure. There are paintings on the stone in orange paint. They depict squares of numbers, a trident, multiple words and a lotus flower surrounded by words. To me the entire motif is foreign. However, I wanted to document the modern human activity that had occurred above the doorway.

The doorway was magical in a way. Once you walked through the threshold, you entered a dark room. On the left side of the room was a deity. I think it was Shiva. There was a woman in the room and she was holding a lamp. It is customary to use your hands to bring the smoke to your eyes, so I performed this act. I also got down on my knees and touched my head to the ground. This is what the other women in the room were doing. Then I gave a small donation and the woman gave me an orange tilak (circular mark) on my forehead.

I always love having these spiritual/cultural experiences with locals. Any time you have an encounter that is tailored to tourists you get the feeling that it is not legitimate and you do not have feel uplifted at all. However, this experience was unique and genuine. It reminds me of two experiences I had the first time I came to India. One at a Jain temple in Mumbai and the other in a Hindu temple in Ellora. I will have to see if I have photograph from either of these places.

I had another nice experience at a Sufi shrine, Haji Ali Dargah, that is off the coast of Mumbai in the Arabian Sea. I got blessed and it was nice. There I was sitting in room full of women. Funny, I do not consider myself to be religious or spiritual really, however, I adore these cultural exchanges. It broadens my world to actively participate in the ways others worship. I was brought up Protestant, so there was never anything extravagant or elegant or fun.

This is probably my favorite memory from Kumbhalgarh. If you are ever there, I hope you go in this little temple and I hope the woman is there to give you a tilak. She was friendly and non-judgmental, a rarity for today’s world. I am also super excited I took this trip with Brad. Neither one of us had been there before so we got to experience it together a new.  This is the kind of experience you hope for when you travel long term or move to a new country. To a new experience with a new friend.

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By |2018-10-11T13:39:21-05:00April 25th, 2017|India|2 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.


  1. Brad burkons April 26, 2017 at 8:44 am - Reply

    HI Betsy, this was nice to find in my in box today, a reminder of our daytrip a handful of weeks ago. I know what you mean about not being particularly religious or spiritual, yet being able to appreciate displays of such in others – especially when they are so non-judgemental, and often joyous. Just in the last few days, I took a 2 day side trip to the village of Khuri, 45km or so south of my current base of Jaisalmer. By lucky break, I arrived in the midst of a 7 day celebration of Krishna (and other local gods), with services based around a traveling band (I thought from Bikkaner, but I never really got that clear). Sunday afternoon, while walking around, I met a man who told me about it, took me over to the temple, where I met the guys in the band, plus some of the locals (chai was poured, of course). They invited me to stay for a communual dinner, then the show/service at 8, but I’d already told my guest house i’d be back for dinner (and maybe more importantly, they had no bottled water at the temple), so regretfully, I turned the dinner part of their offer down. Did come back, though, was a nice evening of story and song, and as always, the locals, once over a bit of surprise, were very warm and welcoming. I also came back for the Monday afternoonservice for a couple hours, before going on a short camel-cart ride to the sand dunes just outside of Khuri, a lovely night sleeping under the stars (talk about your spiritual adventures!).

    • south asian photo April 28, 2017 at 11:32 pm - Reply

      Hey Brad!
      I am glad you are continuing to to enjoy your journey! Keep me posted on where you are.

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