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Yogis Of India And Nepal (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 06/11/11 12:44 PM ET   Updated: 08/11/11 06:12 AM ET

The enigmatic world of sadhus, the vividly decorated or completely nude ascetics of
Hinduism, is explored in "Body Language: The Yogis of India and Nepal" at the Rubin Museum of
Art
. Striking color photographs by Thomas L. Kelly capture extraordinary-looking male sadhus (as well as a female sadhvi), famously known as ascetics and yogis of South Asia.

Sadhus renounce worldly life, earthly possessions and social obligations to devote their lives entirely to religious practice and the quest for spiritual enlightenment, the ultimate goal in the Hindu religion. Sadhus embody this search for religious illumination, serving as living representations of spiritual and ascetic ideals. Though an important part of Hindu cultures, sadhus' commitment to attaining non-attachment and transcendence of the physical body leaves them on the fringes of society.

Thomas L. Kelly made his first trip to Nepal in 1978 as a Peace Corps volunteer, and has since
worked as a photo-activist, documenting the struggles of marginalized people and disappearing
cultural traditions all over the world.

Learn more about the "Body Language" exhibit at the Rubin Museum website.

Vaishnava Applying Tilaka
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Vaishnava Applying Tilaka, 2000
Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Nepal

A sadhu's body is a display of his ascetic identity; his clothes or nudity separate him from the populace, while his painted markings, called tilaka, indicate his focus of devotion. Ranging from a simple daub of color to complex patterns involving the entire face and other body parts, basic tilaka designs mark
a sadhu's religious and sectarian affiliations and may incorporate elaborate, individual variations. The vertical design of this sadhu's tilaka shows him to be a Vaishnava, or follower of Vishnu, whose gentleness is reflected in his devotees and their clothing of white or yellow, the colors of purity and surrender.

After sadhus bathe to purify their bodies, they apply the tilaka while uttering mantras to sanctify their bodies, thus completing the ritual that transforms their body into a vessel worthy of receiving divine power and giving worship to a deity.
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