Madurai’s S R Sai Sanjay Prasath Celebrated for Captivating Dasara Festival Imagery


When S R Sai Sanjay Prasath made the life-altering decision to leave his corporate career in Qatar and head back to his roots in Madurai post-pandemic in 2021, he could never have predicted that his passion for photography would soon grant him national acclaim.

In an intense competition that culled through 11,000 entries, two of Sanjay Prasath’s photographs earned the third prize in the prestigious Mela Moments photography contest, orchestrated by the Union Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the Lalit Kala Akademi, Delhi. These distinguished photographs were part of a grander display at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi during the last two weeks.

The celebrated images, fitting into the theme, “The Third Element,” were snapshots from the annual Dasara Festival at Kulasekarapattinam, depicting the striking figure of a man garbed as the goddess Kali, illuminated by the crimson dance of flame, set against the serene expanse of the blue sky. Sanjay details his conceptual framework as a confluence of complementary colors, seizing the essence of the moment and the composition. Specifically, he captured these during one of his many excursions over the previous year.

The local Dasara festivities are steeped in a tale where villagers beseech their deity to shield them from a demon’s torment, a narrative where men adopt the form of the goddess in ceremonial observance. Sanjay’s intention was to document this unparalleled festival initially for personal archival.

The other acclaimed image captured by Sanjay was snapped in the precincts of the temple, showcasing a man, also dressed as the deity, brandishing flames and sporting burning charcoal on his tongue. He remarks on the challenge of discovering the quintessential vantage point amidst a bustling throng of some 300 photographers, emphasizing the virtue of patience and allowing others to take their shots first—a strategy that unfolds unique perspectives for him.

Sanjay’s tryst with his Sony A73 camera led to a treasure trove of event photographs. At a friend’s behest, he decided to forward five selected pictures to the contest in January. The unexpected beckoning of an email in the following month, calling him to Delhi to accept his prize on February 29, marked a poignant moment in his burgeoning career.

The Mela Moment contest, part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav initiative, drew an astounding 300,000 participants from across the nation. Three winners emerged under each of five different themes, culminating in an extravagant exhibition at the NGMA, which wrapped up on March 14.

For Sanjay, the elation of having his work recognized was unparalleled. Post his return to India, he commenced as a wedding photographer but soon found his muse in the vivid kaleidoscope of travel and cultural photography. The 34-year-old’s quest through the cultural tapestries of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu yielded bountiful images of Theyyam, Pulikali, and the Dasara. These vibrant expressions of cultures have fueled his inspiration to delve into the realms of faith and religious celebrations, a venture he now lovingly regards as his future project of passion.

Sanjay’s photographic odyssey, a testament to his dedication to capturing the ephemeral beauty of cultural phenomena, renders his images not just as visual delights but as historical artifacts that propel the splendor of tradition into the limelight. The acclaim that follows is justly merited, as it is the reflection of a shutterbug’s undying commitment to his art and the rich cultural heritage of his homeland.

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