Posted on: 14 January 2014

Water-colour drawing by Justinian Gantz of pilgrims and Hindu ascetics, Madras, dated 1841. Inscribed on front in ink: 'Pilgrims, Sainashees, Bairaghees, Pandarams. Just Gantz. Popham's Broadway. No.35. Madras 1841.'

This drawing depicts a group of Hindu pilgrims and ascetics. The horizontal white marks of their foreheads as well as the trident symbol on one of them indicate that they are adept of Shiva. They have begging bolws and wooden sticks and wear long mala garlands.

Pilgrimage to a sacred place is considered one of the most important duties of a Hindu. Pilgrimage places are associated with legendary events from the lives of the various gods. It is believed that dying on pilgrimage will bring immediate crossing over to heaven and even salvation. India has numerous sacred cities, rivers, lakes and mountains. Asceticism plays an important part in the Hindu religious life. It ranges from a general renounciation to material life to extreme forms of self-punishement. Renounciation and control of the senses are regarded as essential for the spiritual progress towards liberation. Self-punishement is considered by some a way to eliminate the negative karma accumulated during the past lives and therefore accelerates liberation (moksa), the supreme goal in life for Hindus.

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