INDIA: Naga Sadhus at the Bavnath Mela
At the foot of Girnar Hill, sacred to Hindus and Jains, in the village of Bavnath in Gujarat, an annual festival is held in honor of the great god Shiva. The festival attracts large numbers of mendicant Hindu holy men who are ascetic devotees of Shiva, many of whom go about almost or entirely naked and covered in ash. These are the Naga Sadhus (or Naga Bavas), and their presence is a central attraction of the festival for locals and Indian pilgrims as well as for the few foreign tourists who make it there. Also present are a few female ascetics and gurus, called sadhvis. The culmination of the feast is a midnight dip in a holy tank by the Sadhus; but in the preceding days they make themselves available for consultations on spiritual matters, smoke prodigious quantities of marijuana, and demonstrate various forms of yogic prowess and mortification of the flesh.