On Holy Water – a Photoessay

For the 80% of Indians who are Hindu, the River Ganges is considered sacred, her water holy. In the ancient city of Varanasi, the ghats that form the river's edge teem with pilgrims and devotees who come for a ritual dip in the Ganges in this holiest of cities. The scene is spiritual and, at the same time festive. The streets and ghats are chaotic. The sounds and smells overwhelm the senses. Yet, in spite of the masses of people, there are moments of solitude, aloneness.

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Mrs. Johnson and the Praise House

For the better part of the next hour, Mrs. Johnson tells us her story - she recently moved back to St Helena from New Jersey - and the history of this praise house. This area was once a part of the Mary Jenkins Plantation. Thus, we are standing in the Mary Jenkins Community Praise House. Prior to the Civil War, slaves who were living on plantations were often allowed to build small structures for worship known as praise houses. After Emancipation, former slaves who remained in the area would build more substantial praise houses. This one was built in 1900. Mrs. Johnson tells us that the community is dwindling and services are no longer held on a regular basis. But her eyes brighten and a smile crosses her face as she tells us that the services they do have are lively affairs with much hymn singing and praising, and ending with a shout. A shout was a tradition practiced by African slaves where the worshipers move in a circle as they chant, clap their hands, and shuffle and stomp their feet.

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