Anybody who has been interested in Ramana Maharshi for more than ten minutes has probably seen the next picture. It’s reproduced frequently on book covers and web sites. The photo’s popularity is completely understandable; it’s a wonderful picture.
This photo and similar ones are sometimes called “the Welling busts.” They were taken in 1946 by Gajanan Govind Welling with an old-fashioned wooden box camera that he made himself.
If anyone ever managed to capture Ramana on film, it was Welling.
In Welling’s ethereal photos, Ramana is an otherworldly, almost ghostly being. The light is moonlight and the air is enchanted. Ramana is inhumanly kind, inconceivably kind, and barely a part of our earth.
If we ever wonder why the people who knew Ramana called him Bhagavan, God, these pictures show us the answer.
Here are a few more photos by Welling. The fourth one shows Chinnaswami, Ramana’s brother, manager of the ashram. More text follows the photos.
Welling was a professional photographer, camera manufacturer, and owner of a photography store in Bangalore (Bengaluru) which still operates today under his grandson’s ownership. The sign on the store looks like this:
People sometimes imagine that ‘Welling’ is English, but in fact it’s the name of the village from which the family comes: Veling in Goa on the west coast of India.
According to Sri Ramanasramam’s newsletter:
The Welling Busts are the most revered of all photographic images of Sri Bhagavan. Amazingly the author of these photos, G.G. Welling, came only one time to Tiruvannamalai (in 1946) for a duration of three days. When he was readying to take Bhagavan’s photo, Bhagavan asked if there was sufficient light: “Bhagavan, you are the light!”, Mr. Welling said. Later, the photographer presented Bhagavan with a photo album containing the portraits of Bhagavan, Chinnaswami and their sister, Alamelu, as well as the images of the Big Temple and the Hill.
Descended from a line of photographers going back to the 1850s when his grandfather, Srinivas Mahadeo Welling, took up professional photography, G.G. Welling made great use of the experience inherited from his ancestors, winning awards as a portraitist (which would come as no surprise to devotees of Bhagavan).
His photos [were] regularly featured in The Royal Photographic Society Journal and by 1945, when he founded the Mysore Photographic Society, he was well-established as a photographer. When his family was asked what model camera he used for the Welling Busts, it was learned that the Mr. G.G. Welling apparatus was his own creation, a ‘box camera’, made by Mr. Welling himself.
I searched the archives of the The Photographic Journal of the Royal Photographic Society for Welling’s name but found no mention of it.