Poompukar or Poompuhar refers to a small fishing hamlet situated at the mouth of River Cauvery, in the district of Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu. Well known through the accounts in ancient Sangam literature, much of the town was washed away by progressive erosion and floods. Renowned contemporary photographer and former international photojournalist Abul Kalam Azad has revived the ancient port city through his photographs. Fascinated by Sangam poets’ vivid descriptions about the life and landscape of that period, Azad embarked on a photography project to understand the cultural fusion that left its distinct mark on the local culture and lifestyle of the region. He attempts to tell the tale of the legendary city of Puhar or Pukar through its men.
A photography exhibition titled ‘Linking Lineages’, which showcases 250 photographs from the project, is being held at Nalukettu near Cherpu, Thrissur. The show, the body of which is named Men of Pukar, the third part of Story of Love, Desire and Agony, forms an important part of Azad’s photographic art works of yesteryears, made during two decades. Sangam literature, especially the Tamil classic Silappathikaram scripted by Jain poet Ilango Adigal, makes several mentions about Puhar town. “I was in Puhar for nearly one and a half years for the project. I was amazed when I came to know about the rich history of this ancient port city through Sangam literature. So, I wanted to capture the contemporary Puhar and its men. I carried out the project with the permission of the locals,” shares Azad. The premier exhibition of the photographs was held at the town itself in a traditional Nattukottai Chettiyar mansion, which attracted several hundreds of locals as well as photographers, artists, and historians from near and far.
“Now, the city is a hamlet. Even though several centuries have passed since the Sangam period, the subtle imprints of that ancient culture and its shared lineage are still visible in the everyday life of the common people there. That is what I wanted to portray through my work,” says Azad. He is very keen to break the stereotypes, not just in selecting the contexts of his subject, but in the places that he chooses to exhibit his works. The exhibition ‘Linking Lineages’ is being conducted at Nalukettu, former Alakkattu Mana, an old Brahmin mansion which common people were not allowed to visit years ago. In his own words, his works are ‘interventions’.
Abul Kalam Azad’s current projects primarily focus on a search inside South Indian cultures, and base themselves on ancient literature, folklore, and rituals.
The exhibition will conclude on Sunday.