CNN Photos

India’s masquerade for the gods

Each fall in Kulasekarapattinam, a metamorphosis from human to divine takes hold. Millions converge on the coastal town in South India to celebrate the 10-day Hindu festival of Navratri – a vibrant embodiment of the triumph of good over evil.

Streets suddenly burgeon with gods, demons, spirits and animals. Colors collide, prophecies are dispelled, fangs are painted, masks are donned. The beach becomes a private Mount Olympus filled with talismans, shrines, myths and magic.

Photographer Yannick Cormier has been on scene the past three years to capture the pulse of the divine commemoration.

A Paris native, Cormier was sent to India over a decade ago for work. When he arrived, he received more than just culture shock.

“For me, it was a real thunderbolt. I received a shock both visually and emotionally. Within a half-hour, I knew that I had reached ‘home’,” he said.

Though he describes the festival in vibrant shades of reds and blues, he chose to shoot in black and white.

“Black-and-white photography brings me back, unconsciously, to the ancestral and the primitive,” which he said better corresponds to “the places and the subjects.”

These subjects in particular conjure a dark, chilling, mysterious and surreal atmosphere, which is perfectly reflected in the monochrome pictures. The white-on-black contrast gives way to the dark legends at the root of the celebration.

The festival honors the divine cosmic energy Shakti. According to folklore, Shakti morphed into the dark and violent goddess Kali to slay a demon on the lunar month (around October) upon which the festival falls, Cormier said.

This is one of many interpretations, but for the devout, this festival is more than a tale, it’s a time they can be someone or something else – which all comes awash on the 10th day called Dasera, as the people plunge into the sea to remove any remnants of their alter-divinity.

And for Cormier, the festival contributes to what he called “the creation of my own myth.”

“These images speak about translating into visible reality the incredibly dense world within us – and how this phenomenon is transposed through religious rite.”

- Michelle Cohan, CNN