Life in Pictures: Meera Bai From Belgium, the Sadhvi of Hampi
Why did Meera Bai from Belgium choose to live in the caves of Hampi in Karnataka?
Many have fallen for the mystic charms of Hampi, a city of ruins in Karnataka, that was once the capital of Vijayanagar Empire.
The story of Meera Bai is the story of Hampi’s mystic charms personified.
Meera Bai was born in Belgium but now lives in a cave in Hampi.
She collects wood to cook food and has no electricity or running water. She sleeps in the open amid the Hampi rocks with only her dogs for company and protection.
Clare Arni, a photographer based in Bengaluru, captured Meera's changing life in last thirteen years. Since then the pictures have been included in some of the most prominent exhibitions and art galleries.
My meetings with Meera were sporadic, intermittent. I visited Hampi, and at times Meera would visit Bangalore. Sometimes the shoot would take the form of an elaborate charade with Meera’s extravagant clothing and role play.Clare Arni, Photographer
When Meera first came to Hampi, it had little tourism. She lived with a sadhu in a small hut, surrounded by caves and wild animals like leopards, civet cats, bears, scorpions and snakes.
She learnt from him the fundamentals of pujas, scriptures and mantras. Five years later, he died and she decided to keep his place going. She lived the life of a Sadhvi- reading scriptures, performing pujas and living off money from donations.
You have to always be aware, there is always a risk, you stay silent and then you learn.Meera Bai
In 2003, Meera visited her mother in Europe and on her return, decided to work for others. She shaved off her long, matted locks and started working with a local NGO, making crafts with village women. She had to re-educate herself in computers, mobile phones and meetings.
Despite the fun and unrestricted nature of the exercises, the shoots became a serious project. “For Meera these shoots were short departures from her routine; a mutual trust and respect had developed between me and her which allowed for the photography to grow beyond the cliche’s of posed portraiture, beyond the limitations of the documentary shot, into a unique fusion of elements,” says Clare.
Meera feels that in Hampi, life has remained unchanged for more than a 1,000 years. The land has a special power and, she says, in a way, the place chose her. She has listened to that destiny and never thought of living anywhere else.
(With inputs from Clare Arni, a documentary photographer based in Bangalore)
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