I have seen sadhus on previous trips to India. But I had always wanted to see sadhus in a festival setting, like at the Kumba Mela, and I wanted to see women sadhus. While I still have not attended the Kumba Mela, the largest gathering of humanity on earth, I was able in 2013 to photograph both men and women sadhus at the Maha Shivratri Festival in India.
There are different sects of sadhus, and one of the sects, the Naga Sadhus, are followers of the Hindu God Shiva. They are religious ascetics, having given up their material possessions in order to become devotees. They often have long beards and knotted hair, and they often appear naked with their bodies covered in ash. To show their devotion, they engage in certain rituals–some may choose never to cut their hair, others may choose to stand on one leg, and others may twist a sword around their body parts.
Maha Shivratri is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in honor of Lord Shiva in various parts of India and Nepal, including at the Bhavnath Mahadev temple on Girnar Hill in Junagadh. The festival celebrates Shiva’s wedding to Parvati, and naga sadhus gather, chant and pray. The festival’s climax comes at midnight with a dancing procession and a rush to bathe in nearby sacred waters. The Bhavnath Mahadev temple is steeped in myths and legends. The temple’s Shiva linga is said to have emerged of its own divine intention. And, reportedly, when Shiva and Parvati were traveling over the Girnar Hills, their divine garment fell over the Mrigi Kund pool making this place a holy and auspicious site for Lord Shiva worshippers and the site of the festival’s sacred bathing.