For the first time in a long while, I am completely intimidated. All around me are sadhus, Hindu holy men, who are trying to get me to take their picture. It’s like reverse paparazzi. Who knew that people wanting me to take their picture would become a problem for me in Nepal? Or that holy men would be this aggressive? They want me to take their photo so they can demand payment. I don’t know where to point my camera. I’ve been a photographer for fifteen years, yet am as nervous as the first day I picked up my camera.
I’ve come the day before Shivaratri, a Hindu festival celebrated annually in reverence of the god Shiva, in the hopes that I will catch the sadhus preparing for the ceremonies. As a non-Hindu, I’m not permitted to enter Pashupatianath Temple. This temple is considered one of the sacred temples of the Hindu faith. So, I shoot from outside, the sadhus’ dressing room.
I’m in luck. Several sahdus begin their preparations by covering themselves in ash, some taking several hours to paint their bodies. There is a wide array of dress (or in some cases undress) and makeup, but each sadhu has his own theme.
In honor of the ceremony, the Nepali government temporarily permits cannabis as a religious ritual. My eyes water as I look across the smoke-filled courtyard. The sadhus are huddled in small groupings as far the eye can see. Most walked from India in order to worship Lord Shiva in this holy space. The sadhus take full advantage, and I hope the contact high doesn’t ruin my ability to shoot.
The sadhus make their living off being photographed, and it’s standard practice to pay them about 50 rupees after you’ve taken their picture. Some of the holier men require more. You can run into sadhus in almost every temple you go to in Kathmandu. Up to this point I have avoided photographing them as I rarely pay those who I photograph. But today, in honor of Shiva and the pure feast of photographs at my disposal, I break my own rules.