What in the name of God...? Image of the Day

filmportraits-11Now religion can be a tricky subject at the best of times - fascinating certainly, but tricky nonetheless.  While shooting images at the amazing Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2013 there were some truly extraordinary sights - some defied logic and normal reason, but then religions themselves (to many) often defy logic and reason.

In Hinduism a Sadhu is a religious ascetic or holy man, dedicated to reaching a higher state of being through meditation and contemplation.  Sadhus engage in a wide variety of religious practices. Some practice extreme asceticism while others focus on praying, chanting or meditating.  The Kumbh Mela brings thousands upon thousands of Sadhus together on the banks of the sacred Ganges river in a heady cannabis smoke laden display of devotion.

Relying on donations from lay people the life of a Sadhu could never be described as easy - understandably hunger and poverty are a common feature of Sadhu life.  At the Kumbh Mela I photographed a lot of Sadhus - their naked ash smeared bodies and strange practices provide an obvious draw to both the faithful and the not so faithful.  This particular Sadhu had long ago decided to show his faith in a rather unconventional manner -  others sat cross legged and claimed to be hundreds of years old (donations gratefully received in exchange for blessing) or claimed to have sat naked on high Himalayan glaciers for years at a time (cue picture of a melting snowman as proof - as if proof were needed - donations gratefully received in exchange for blessings) or amazed crowds with floating rocks (cue pumice in barrel of water - donations gratefully received in exchange for blessings).

This particular Sadhu chose to wrap his genitals around his sword - a sign of complete lack of sexual desire - and then had one of his devotees jump up behind him and balance on the sword, putting significant force on an area not generally accustomed to such things - cue donations in exchange for blessings.

As a non Hindu my donations were always accepted in exchange for photographs and the occasional blessing.  The greatest blessing I have received in life is that I'm fortunate enough not to have to make a living in this way - religion is a strange thing for sure.