Our technologically-obsessed society often finds it hard to grasp the reasons behind asceticism: for what reason should one forsake all of one’s earthly possessions and live excluded from society? This stunning set of portraits by Brooklyn-based photographer Joey L puts us face to face with religious ascetics who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of spiritual liberation.
Starting in Northern Ethiopia, Joey has traveled the world searching for wandering monks and spiritualists. The latest installment of his Holy Men series features holy men, or sadhus, living in Varanasi, India. All of the world’s faiths have their own forms of ascetics, but the ascetics of the Hindu faith are known for sometimes extreme acts of self-denial, such as keeping a single arm aloft for months or even years.
Most of the portraits focuses on aghori, a sect known for engaging in postmortem rituals such as covering themselves in human ashes, meditating on corpses or crafting jewelry from human bones. “The Aghori have a profound connection with the dead. Death is not a fearsome concept, but a passing from the world of illusion,” says the photographer. Joey was also joined in India by filmmaker Cale Glendening. While Joey shot his photo series, Glendening shot footage for “Beyond,” his beautiful documentary film on the sadhus, which you can see below.
Left: The Aghori have a profound connection with the dead. Death is not a fearsome concept, but a passing from the world of illusion. Varanasi, India Right: When he was young, Lal Baba’s parents arranged a marriage for him. Uncertain about his future, he ran away from home in Bihar Siwan and took up the lifelong task of becoming a sadhu. Varanasi, India
Lal Baba has dreadlocks (jatas) several meters long, which have been growing for over 40 years. To sadhus, dreadlocks are a sign of renunciation and a life dedicated to spirituality. Varanasi, India
Right: Baba Mooni conducting Aghori Puja in Varanasi, India
Right: Magesh left a well paid job as an IT computer consultant to pursue to path of Aghora. After years of practice, he finds no temptation to return to his old life. Varanasi, India
Left: Baba Mooni conducting Aghori Puja in Varanasi, India Right:
Aba Yohannis monastery – 74 years old “I came from my village, from the countryside to learn. I didn’t go home. I preferred to stay here. I’ve been here for 43 years.”
Right: “Perhaps I will live even longer than 101, maybe 101 years more. I know a monk who is 80 years old, but he acts very old. He is not like me.”
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