Savanur is a forgotten village in the Haveri district of Karnataka –a former British princely state, it’s only contemporary claim to fame is a complex of 3 Baobab trees estimated to be over 1500 years old and believed to be haunted. I spent a year in Savanur, my father’s place of birth, documenting a new challenge in my parents’ lives – to live in and act as caretakers of a temple whose aura was shrouded in obscurity for me but with ancestral significance to our extended family.

I was more than a little surprised when they communicated their decision to me. Though I knew my parents to be God-fearing, they never struck me as overtly religious. Growing up, my family had shuttled between a few Indian metropolitan cities, away from our home state Karnataka. Due to this largely limited contact with my roots, I’d never had a chance to understand what this temple meant to my family.

The temple composed my father’s earliest unconscious memories. He was born in Savanur and grew up there with his 14 siblings. He remembers playing the jhyali (a percussive instrument) during the evening puja and learning to swim in the temple’s stepwell. Despite leaving Savanur as a young boy, my father still experiences a strong spiritual connection with the temple.

My mother agreed to join him and pledged her support to this endeavour but not without apprehension. They lived a comfortable life in Bangalore, which she had decided to put on hold for a year. Unlike my father, she was not emotionally invested or nostalgic about the place. Her role was to handle the logistics that entail the everyday running of the temple, including taking care of the staff and devotees who often travelled from great distances.

No stranger to organisation and management, she soon made herself indispensable to the everyday operations of the temple and her contribution especially shone through in this family endeavour. It made me immensely proud that she emerged as a veritable leader in a rigidly patriarchal and orthodox setup.

These images document a homecoming, a unique and cathartic journey that my parents embarked upon together. Photography gave me a sense of purpose in a setting, which despite being my origin, was ineffably alien. Being an agnostic, displays of overwhelming faith could be a source of discomfiture. Making pictures gave me a convenient mask for my scepticism. The project is presented through the lives of the temple’s inhabitants, mostly members of my extended family and some local residents of Savanur.

This body of work won the Toto Funds the Arts - Emerging photographer of the year, 2015. The same year, it was part of the Focus photography festival in Mumbai and was displayed at the Bhau Daji Lad museum.

This work was supported by the Toto Funds the arts, Tasveer emerging photographer of the year award, 2015.