The Sacred and The Profane

Essay 533 • Sep 18th 2023

Benaras, a city adorned with shrines and echoing conch shells, has long been infused with saffron. Steeped in history, it bears the footsteps of revered figures like Buddha, Tulsidas, and Holkar queen. Symbolising the sacred and the profane, Benaras stands at a unique crossroads.

Religion, often defined by the distinction between the sacred and the profane, encompasses extraordinary elements that inspire reverence, as well as the routine aspects of our daily lives. It is at this juncture that Benaras exists today. Just as the city embodies the complexities of religious beliefs, it also grapples with the realities of a right-wing government's impending term conclusion.

This work, titled 'The Sacred and The Profane,' delves into the essence of religion and attempts to portray the breakdown of humanity's self-created image of God. Benaras serves as a reflection of this struggle, as the city faces the challenges posed by the saffron facade of the ruling government. This documentation becomes all the more crucial amidst the ongoing tensions between Indian liberals and the dominant right-wing ideology.

In exploring the coexistence of decay and devotion, this narrative unveils the current state of a once-great city. Benaras, previously known as one of the world's strongest democracies with a population surpassing China's, now finds its core faith shaken.


Coming from the industrial township of Jharkhand, Tatanagar, Abhishek Basu is as a freelance art documentary photographer, and he works for various publishing houses on experimental story telling techniques, book design, curation and multimedia. A broadsheet initiative of his— Provoke Papers, focusing on migration and labour relations, takes root in a series titled ‘How green was my mountain’ which is his long form documentation of the coal mining regions of India. Taking to Abbas’s advice, “buy a pair of shoes and fall in love with it”, Abhishek’s subjects span the wide variety of where life and his understanding of it have taken him.