holy rollers: kathmandu's sadhus

  • holy rollers: kathmandu's sadhus

    In 2008 Nepal became a republic. It is still struggling to reconcile the old urban elite and the disaffected rural poor. But the demise of the world’s last ruling Hindu monarchy—headed by a king seen as the reincarnation of a deity—has not disturbed Hinduism’s deep roots in Nepal. Nor has it led to a shortage of those seeking the path to enlightenment by way of jolly austerity.  ~ SIMON LONG

     

    The snake-staff is a symbol of authority—hardly needed, given its holder’s air of regal self-possession.

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  • holy rollers: kathmandu's sadhus

    Pashupathi lies on the banks of the Bagmati river. It was here, in 2001, that the much-loved King Birendra and other members of Nepal’s royal family were cremated after a massacre blamed on the crown prince, who also killed himself.

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  • holy rollers: kathmandu's sadhus

    But it is also testimony to a life of asceticism and yoga. According to tradition, sadhus and other Hindu faithful have congregated at Pashupathi since the fifth century. It is among the oldest and biggest temples to the deity Lord Shiva.

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  • holy rollers: kathmandu's sadhus

    But they also like a giggle. Winstanley was drawn to the sadhus’ deep content—“they are very happy people”—and a childish sense of fun. Some of that contentment no doubt stems from the vast quantities of charas—cannabis—that they consume. But it is also testimony to a life of asceticism and yoga.

     

    These days a haze of pollution often shrouds the mountains that ring Kathmandu’s horizons.

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  • holy rollers: kathmandu's sadhus

    The complex houses a dozen or so of these resident sanyasi, or renunciates, who have relinquished earthly attachments—money, family, sex, ambition—to devote themselves to spiritual truth, and the attainment of moksha, or enlightenment, breaking the endless chain of reincarnation which our karma dictates for us.

    Many sadhus eagerly display the length of their beard, as proof of how long they have been shunning worldly ties. But they are not above showing off their press cuttings, as seen here in the cell at Pashupathi where the most senior resident sadhu lives.

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  • holy rollers: kathmandu's sadhus

    Winstanley, who makes his living as a commercial photographer, was in Kathmandu working on a forthcoming book on Nepal and other countries of the Himalayas. Visiting the Pashupathi complex of Hindu temples, one of the largest and holiest outside India, he was captivated by the sadhus.

     

    For all their asceticism, the sadhus have a sense of style, and some have a weakness for ornaments, not to mention shades.

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  • holy rollers: kathmandu's sadhus

    Caked in ash and make-up, high as Himalayan kites and fond of posing—for a price—for tourists’ cameras, the sadhus of Pashupatinath also show evidence of the self-discipline with which they have pursued their spiritual mission. Their yoga technique is such that they can tie themselves, almost literally, in knots. “Legs are forever going round behind their heads,” says Ian Winstanley, who took these pictures. The man shown in the previous image especially puzzled him: “I couldn’t work out if it was a granny or a reef knot.”

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  • holy rollers: kathmandu's sadhus

    No sex, no family, no money…but plenty of consolations, including considerable flexibility and a liking for a giggle.

    IAN WINSTANLEY  photographs the Sadhus of Kathmandu. Introduction by SIMON LONG.

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