Sadhus, the vividly decorated or completely nude wandering ascetics of Hinduism, are the subject of striking photographs by Thomas Kelly in Body Language: The Yogis of India and Nepal. Enlightenment—liberation from the inherent suffering of worldly existence—is the ultimate goal in the Hindu religion. Sadhus renounce worldly life, earthly possessions, and social obligations in order to devote their lives entirely to religious practice and the quest for spiritual enlightenment, making them an important part of the Hindu cultures of South Asia. Sadhus use their body like a canvas for telling stories, using colors and symbols to represent esoteric inner visions and higher states of consciousness while also expressing their religious identities. Their sparsely dressed or nude weather-worn bodies and matted locks are typically decorated with combinations of gray ash and red, white, and yellow paint. These markings, called tilakas, range from a simple daub of color to fantastically complex designs utilizing the entire face and body. Each design identifies the sadhu’s particular denomination and the god to whom the sadhu is devoted. Body Language focuses on the rich symbolism behind sadhus’ painted bodies, postures and practices.
Curated by Becky Bloom