Religion: Benedict's Sanyasis

In a bare mountainside building in the Salem* district of the Indian state of Madras, 35 Indian ascetics live and pray together. In the tradition of the Indian sanyasis (holy men), they wear coarse cotton robes dyed a bright saffron. At mealtimes they eat a strict vegetarian diet of tapioca, rice and lentils. When they chant their prayers, they sit cross-legged on the floor. They wear no shoes or sandals, for Indian custom forbids any footgear inside a holy place.

The 35 sanyasis are neither Hindus nor Buddhists; they are Roman Catholic monks—priests and novices—of the Benedictine monastery at Siluvaigiri (Holy Cross...

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