The Meera Bai from Belgium


Meera Bai was born in Belgium but now lives in a cave in Hampi.

She collects wood to cook food and has no electricity or running water. She sleeps in the open amid the Hampi rocks with only her dogs for company and protection.

When she first came here, Hampi had little tourism. She lived with a sadhu in a small hut, surrounded by caves and wild animals like leopards, civet cats, bears, scorpions and snakes.

She learnt from him the fundamentals of p ujas, scriptures and mantras. Five years later, he died and she decided to keep his place going. She lived the life of a sadhvi — reading scriptures, performing pujas and living off money from donations.

It was a test to be a woman alone in such a remote place. “You have to always be aware, there is always a risk, you stay silent and then you learn,” she says. She practised moderation and her needs were basic, a life in tune with the elements, undisturbed by the outside world. In 2003, she visited her mother in Europe and on her return, decided to work for others.

She shaved off her long, matted locks and started working with a local NGO, making crafts with village women. She had to re-educate herself in computers, mobile phones and meetings.

Meera feels that in Hampi, life has remained unchanged for more than a 1,000 years. The land has a special power and, she says, in a way, the place chose her. She has listened to that destiny and never thought of living anywhere else.

Clare Arni is a photographer based in Bengaluru. Her work encompasses architecture, social documentary and cultural heritage.

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