South Asia’s Holy Men

The Photo Blog
July 31 2013 10:58 AM

Arresting Portraits of South Asia’s Holy Men

L1000990 2 kopi

Ken Hermann

The ascetic Hindu holy men known as sadhus are difficult to track down. But once you come across one, it’s hard to miss him.

While their dress varies according to their various religious allegiances, sadhus are spectacular-looking individuals. Many wear ochre-colored or white robes, while some go partially or completely naked. Some cover their bodies in color to show allegiance to a particular sect. Some sadhus shave their heads, while others let their hair grow into long, twisted knots.

Photographer Ken Hermann said the sadhus had long captured his interest on trips through India and Nepal. “They awoke my curiosity with their way of life and of course their appearance,” Hermann said via email.

L1000809 kopi

Ken Hermann

SukadebGiri kopi

Ken Hermann

GagaDas kopi

Ken Hermann

Advertisement

Sadhus leave behind all material and sexual attachments to live a life devoted to their spiritual practice. They keep only a few possessions, including a staff, a water pot, and an alms bowl, and they rely on the charity of others to survive. Some live in monasteries, but many live largely in isolation in remote caves, huts, and forests. There are millions across South Asia. 

With the help of a local guide, Hermann was able to meet and photograph many of these men over the course of several weeks. He met some of the sadhus at Kumbh Mela, the mass Hindu pilgrimage, and others were at temples where they sometimes congregate.      

“My idea behind the portraits was to capture the beauty of the sadhus. I wanted the holy men to stand out from the big crowds of the pilgrims and tourists you most often find at these sacred places,” Hermann said.

L1000932 kopi

Ken Hermann

DepotDas 1 kopi

Ken Hermann

LolungryNagaBaba 1 kopi

Ken Hermann

Though the sadhus were elusive, Hermann said they didn’t mind having their photos taken. Still, there were some challenges getting the shoots together. “They just had a hard time understanding the project and that I wanted them on specific locations and at a specific time of day,” Hermann said. In his experience, he added, “They smoke a lot of marijuana and sometimes they forgot to show up.”

Hermann said he used studio lights to give the portraits power and simplicity and to emphasize the spirituality of the sadhus. “I wanted to provide the images with a kind of unreal and almost supernatural look that emphasizes the sadhus’ place in the world—a place closer to God,” Hermann said.

GopalGiriBaba kopi

Ken Hermann

RamanandaBaba kopi

Ken Hermann

ShankarDas kopi

Ken Hermann

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Don’t Panic! The U.S. Already Stops Ebola and Similar Diseases From Spreading. Here’s How.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 6:59 PM The Democrats’ War at Home Can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.