This week’s Travel Photo of the Week takes us the the dusty streets of Durbur Square in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal to meet a Hindu holy man or sadhu. It is a common misconception that Nepal is predominantly Buddhist after all it is the birthplace of Siddhartha who later became Buddha, and its close proximity to Tibet and Bhutan would lead one to believe this would be accurate. In actuality, it’s southern neighbor India, provides the religious influence of Hindu to 90% of the population of Nepal.
Sadhu is the Sanskrit word for good or holy man and are wandering monks with a dedication to achieving moksa, or liberation, through meditation and contemplation. As in this photo sadhus often wear ochre color robes representing sannyasa or renunciation. They renounce all worldly thoughts and desires and spend their lives in spiritual contemplation. It is a symbolic gesture of throwing ones self upon the fire and freeing the soul. As a result sadhus are not cremated upon their death like most other Hindus, but are buried as they have already been symbolically cremated.
Becoming a sadhu is the fourth phase in a Hindu’s life after studies, fatherhood and being a pilgrim. For most Hindus it is not a practical option as one must remove all attachments to family, society and earthly possessions. After deciding to become a sadhu one must study under and serve a guru. After years of teaching they become eligible to transform into the difficult lifestyle of a sadhu. The holy men are often required to attend their own ritual funerals and sadhus are considered dead to themselves, friends, family and even legally to the government.
The holy men will typically bathe every morning in the cold mountain streams of the Himalayas feeding into the holy river Ganges before beginning their daily religious practice. This consists of either devotional worship, hatha yoga, fasting or in some cases they take their austerities to extremes like standing on one leg or extending one hand in the air for years or not speaking for up to 12 years. Although some times feared, because of the perception that they can create terrible curses, they are generally revered by the Hindu population. Sadhus are called upon to provide religious instruction, blessings and to govern over conflicts. They are considered to be living embodiments of the divine. It is unknown if the sadhu in this picture is an authentic holy man or someone scamming an unknowing tourist, but based off of his gregarious nature and eagerness to negotiate a price for taking his picture, he was probably the latter of the two, but I would like to believe that I had a brush a true sadhu.
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