I finally had time to catch up on Cale Glendening’s film- Beyond, shot in Varanasi during the days leading up to the Hindu religious festival, Mahashivratri. The documentary filmmaker follows photographer Joey L. and his assistant Ryan McCarney around Varanasi as they shoot to complete their series- Holy Men.
As someone who was born and raised in India, I would personally never visit Varanasi but thats my personal choice. Religious destinations aren’t exactly on my list of places to visit. Also, the river Ganges that plays an integral role in the story of Varanasi is pure filthy with corpses and what not floating around. But, this documentary unlike any of the Varanasi related travel segments/documentaries I have seen before, puts the spotlight on a culture so ancient and gives it a 21st century look while at the same time maintaining the profound essence behind the Aghori Sadhus’ spirituality.
The keywords that come to mind when I think of Varanasi are-marijuana, naked sadhus (holy men), cannibalism, frenzy, weird, celebration of death and more marijuana. Because I had pre-formed notions set in my mind, I’ve always found it hard to take Varanasi seriously, until I watched this documentary. The Aghoris are very, very strange sect of Hindus, their taboo rituals have caused many Hindus to condemn them as non-Hindus but throughout the video, this one Sadhu speaks of something very profound in terms of spirituality. In my understanding, these holy men view death for what it is, death of the body. Most of us are raised to be scared of death but spirituality helps you connect with something else than just the body. Their ways are obviously barbaric, beyond twisted but the message I got from what I saw was –Embrace the darkness and you will find the light.
I think these 3 friends have done a great job of getting that message across and at the same time showing the viewers something Beyond the Varanasi that we are so used to watching on travel shows.
I’m in love with Joey’s photography. There are some great, glamorous shots on his website of ancient cultures, holy men, portraits and beautiful commercial work including some for my favorite, Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia.