Photo essay: In search of higher truth

Urban Sadhu is the story of the modern man in search of his higher truth. It is inspired by thoughts, feelings and experiences many of us have gone through in our life.

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They are seekers of enlightenment, the sadhus of India: spiritual nomads who travel across the land, detached from possessions and families — on a journey to connect with a higher consciousness.

Their portals to an elevated plane are asceticism, meditation, yoga, pilgrimage, the Himalayas — and hashish. Many sadhus worship Shiva — who has been portrayed in Hindu mythology as a smoker of this weed. Their use of the substance may be seen as a practice akin to the taking of peyote by Native Americans to find God.

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Sadhus often wear saffron or white, beads of rudraksh, tulsi or crystal. They wear their spirituality, smearing vermillion and ash on their foreheads. Vermilion is blood, fertility, life; ash is mortality — a powerful contradiction that can open the third eye of understanding.

Urban Sadhu is a story of modern man in search of a higher truth. His seeking first draws him to a Bohemian lifestyle. He finds comfort in the skin of a city-bred artist-gypsy. Too much comfort perhaps, as he still remains connected to society, unable to experience liberation. These initial explorations have value, yet they leave him with the feeling that something continues to be missing. It propels him to fill the void within, the sadhu way.  

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The changes in clothing, accessories and demeanour of the Urban Sadhu during the course of the photo essay reflect his evolving journey. In the earlier part of the essay, we see him in Bohemian cafés, in the company of regular people and on the fringes of a householder’s life. Later on, we see him visiting a Shiva temple, communing with nature, attempting to be one with the universe. Towards the end, we sense that he has come so close to finding his own truth, he can almost reach out and touch it. 

Urban Sadhu is inspired and informed by thoughts, feelings and experiences that many of us, including the photographer and myself, have had. We sense the void within, search for a higher truth, experience spiritual yearning. We have, in our own ways, led a Bohemian life. While we have not become sadhus in the literal sense, we find the tradition appealing, and have borrowed elements from it in our journeys. 

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This photo essay springs from the imagination and portrays a spiritual seeker who combines his own unique approach to life with elements of Bohemianism and the sadhu way. In the end, one hopes, there is a universality to the experience.

It started with the void:

The emptiness I felt within.

And yearned to fill.

Could I do so

by walking away from it all?

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But to walk away

one must walk towards something.

Towards what? Awareness?

 

Awareness.

Misused word.

Abused word. Delete. Reset.

Simplify thoughts.

Clarify ideas.

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I started again.

Redefined my journey

As a search for a place

where there is something

bigger than I, me, myself.

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Wandering aimlessly

gave me an aim.

I felt compelled to raise

my chin, my knees,

my altitude.

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Up in the mountains,

things seem clearer.

One’s ego is dwarfed

by the scale of Nature.

You are infinitesimal.

But, could it be,

that you are also one

with the infinite?

Not greater, not lesser?

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But which path to take?

Should I be a sadhu?

Meditate to liberate the self?

Look for the guru

with the right mantra?

Seek the echo of Om that vibrates

with the essential me?

Should I renounce

the worldly life?

Be a spiritual warrior?

An ascetic in search

of enlightenment?

 

Should I light up,

cry Bom Shiva,

as I vanish behind

a cloud of smoke?

Alter the mind?

Reach an understanding?

Am I capable of living

a life of austerity?

Do I need to?

Between epicureanism

and asceticism,

is there not a middle path to take?

 

To reach a place

where I may fill the void I feel?

Or at least realise

that the emptiness is imaginary?

That it is my fullness

that is real?

More questions than answers.

 

And yet,

a glimmer of understanding.

A shimmer of hope.

It breaks through

the clouds of my thoughts.

If but for a moment,

I spy the light. Within. 

Words

Sumanto Chattopadhyay

pictures

Sharmistha Dutta

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