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Striking Portraits Of The Holy Men And Women Of Varanasi, India

India’s sadhus (holy men) are revered in Varanasi and seen as representatives of gods. I travelled there to understand and photograph them.

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Sadhus occupy a unique and important place in Indian Hindu society, where holiness is a way of life.

When transitioning into a sadhu, men are declared formally and legally dead – they attend their own funeral, sometimes walking through a symbolic cremation fire. These holy men are on a perpetual pilgrimage, although some live in major urban cities in contemporary India. They do not work and are supported by the public through donations. There are also holy women, known as sadhvis.

The rigours of spiritual practice – a strict prayer regime of mantras, devotions, and personal vows and a series of seemingly arbitrary self-imposed physical hardships, such as fasting and sleep deprivation – test the limitations of the sadhus and sadhvis' human forms. Aspiring to a spiritual separation from the world, they are freed of human attachments and common luxuries.

These portraits explore the tension between the exacting standards required of sadhus and sadhvis and the real men and women behind their holy titles. In a world that both reveres holiness and also fears it, these images express these people's authenticity in clean, clear-eyed portraits.