"Mystics and Charlatans"

Shrouded in a haze of blue smoke and swirling ash the freshly packed chillum glows a deep red. Half-closed bloodshot eyes sparkle from the light now filling the cloister around the central courtyard and shrine. What is smoked in the conical clay pipes is a varied mixture of ganja (marijuana flower and leaf), charas (a form of hashish handmade in India from the cannabis plant, which grows wild in the Himalayas) and tobacco. Lord Shiva was closely connected to cannabis, a sacred herb in Hindu religion. He smoked it and is often pictured with his eyes half-closed and meditating.

Drug use©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Lost in the hazeLost in the haze©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
Cosmic nature©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Chilum©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
With a chronic rasping cough from smoking pipe after pipe Pashupatinath`s mystics, or holy men of Kathmandu, are preparing for their daily rituals. Sadhus occupy a unique and important place in Hindu society, particularly in villages and small towns more closely tied to tradition. In Hinduism, sadhu, or shadhu is a common term for a mystic, an ascetic, practitioner of yoga (yogi) and/or wandering monks. Sadhus spend a great deal of time meditating and devoting themselves to their chosen deity.
 
No Tilaka ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Follower of Lord Vishnu ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
The ash represents their death to their worldly life – in fact, many of them are required to attend their own funeral as part of their holy training. Sadhus are buried and not cremated like other hindus as they are considered to already be dead unto themselves.
 
Yoga posture ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Yoga posture ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
This Sadhu practices yoga everyday. The posture is emblematic for the life of a sadhu, for by 'reversing all values', by acting contrary to human nature, they intend to speed up enlightenment. Yoga means Yug- to unite, in which all energies are mobilized in an effort towards the spiritual goal and to unite man and god in devotion.
Look into my eyes"Look into my eyes" ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

I was invited to sit with him, drink some chai and smoke a chillum. I smiled and told him I was more than happy for allowing me the opportunity to photograph and observe his daily ritual. I did not ask what the bandages were for!

Beard©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
Tilakas©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Painted forehead©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
Certainly, not all sadhus are enlightened, but believers regard them all as holy anyway, and successful sadhus are even worshipped as 'gods on earth'. They give donations to the sadhus regarded as offerings to the gods and get their blessing in return. It is becoming increasingly common for beggars or poor people to pose as sadhus for material gain.

 


Comments

Vanishing Cultures Photography
Thanks so much for visiting.
Priya Balan(non-registered)
I like this whole story about the sadhus. I never knew that they were buried instead of burnt. That is something I learnt new.
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