Angalamman Festival

A Festival of Pain

The Angalamman Festival is held Kaveripattinam, a smalll town in Tamil Nadu. On the day after Maha Shivratri, the festival sees tens of thousands of people from the town converge to worship the deity Angalamman. Obviously, this was not a festival to be missed, and I knew from the start it would be a special event to photograph. Shiva had one night to sleep, and things were going to get wild when he awoke.

Extreme body piercings are one way to offer pain sacrifices.

Photographing this festival was a challenge. Timetables did not run to schedule, and often events happened late, the next day, or not at all. By the end of the event, the crowds were so thick I could hardly move, let alone take a photo. To top it all, there was an abundance of salt being thrown as offerings. My camera now needs a thorough clean, and this includes the sensor.

As with many events, people put a lot of work into how they look, and were generally happy to be photographed. Obviously, this was a religious event, and the elaborate costumes and offerings of pain all had meaning beyond the aesthetic. Often subjects were in a trance and did not notice me, at other times people were in too much pain to care about who took their photo.

My favourite photo from the event.


India is a country of strange contrasts. On one hand it is incredibly conservative, and on the other hand, you find beautifully dressed and colourful transexuals dancing in the centre of a parade. In my experience, most Hijra will initially refuse to be photographed, then change their mind after 2-3 minutes! After all, if you have spent that long getting ready…

Thick Crowds
The Joker

The Joker

The joker was one highlight of the event. For the opening act his routine appeared to be running around the crowd, getting whipped by some guy who was shouting at him. On this occasion, the joke appeared to be on him. Unsurprisingly, this was the event children appeared happiest to watch.

Lady in Temple
Offerings of Salt
Costume and Makeup
This lady was going into trance-like spasms.


For some reason I decided to pack almost every piece of gear I own. I wanted some flexibility, so I started out with the Tamron 2:8 28-75mm lens. This was going to be an all day shoot, so I packed a flash and diffuser, which would allow some leeway when shooting in the shadows or against the light. For a second body, I brought my Olympus Em5ii, paired with the excellent 45mm fixed lens, which is awesome for portraiture and one of my favourite pieces of glass. Lastly, this was the first event I have been to where I have filled a 64gb memory card, and in future I will definitely carry a couple of spares.

When Life Gives you Lemons
Dragging Chains
Rocket Man

The festival ended with two men, suspended only by body piercings, being rocketed along a wire delivering babies, and offerings, to a group of priests on a truck. The strangeness of this situation was paired with a genuine fear for my life, as I was crammed in amongst a very tightly knit crowd and could not get out even if I wanted to.

This event has inspired me to travel and witness more of India’s colourful festivals and rituals. Many thanks to Kaveri and Culture Rings for the assistance and guidance on this photoshoot! That’s all for today folks. If you would like to support this site, then remember you can always use the buy me a coffee app.

Smile and Keep Clicking, Chris

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