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In the far reaches of the world, even in places where cameras rarely go, you'll find an incredible range of rituals, cultures and acts of faith that help people find deeper meaning and connection with the world around them. These practices and journeys shape people's lives, and now, the documentary "Belief" explores the origins and stories behind these diverse faiths in a special seven-night event beginning Oct. 18.
Some of the stories are intimate; others are epic; all are sacred. Here are five of the devout spiritual seekers featured in the documentary, along with the extreme acts of faith that they follow on their paths to purpose and enlightenment.
1. A woman who has each hair plucked from her head
Madhya Pradesh, India
A young woman named Anju has left behind her family and her life as a cadet in the Indian army to follow a profound spiritual calling: becoming a Jain nun. The 19-year-old has been preparing for her initiation for two years, but before Anju can take her vows, she must pass a series of tests to prove she is ready.
On the day of Anju's final test, 15,000 people have come to witness her transformation. To become a nun, Anju must prove she is indifferent to pain and vanity by having every hair pulled from her head.
Anju's story airs on Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 8 p.m. ET on "Belief."
2. Land-divers who take a literal leap of faith off a wood tower
Pentecost Island, South Pacific
On this faraway island at the edge of our world, belief is a matter of life and death. For the people here, daily existence is precarious -- their continued survival depends on the annual harvest, and asking God to save them from salvation takes a literal leap of faith from a mighty tower constructed of sticks, vines and bark.
It's called land driving, and for centuries, Islanders have believed that the more dangerous the jump, the more bountiful the harvest. The only safety precaution is a tree vine tied around the jumpers' ankles. Men have done this for generations, and even boys as young as 9 -- like Bebe, whose first jump is documented in "Belief" -- are eager to prove their strength.
Bebe's story airs on Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 8 p.m. ET on "Belief."
3. A teen who dances for three days straight
In the Apache religion, people believe they were created by a goddess called "Changing Woman," who taught them everything they need to know about survival. Today, Apache girls like Ashly Hines still honor the goddess, transforming themselves into the Changing Woman in a ritual called the Sunrise Ceremony.
For three days, Ashly will dance with little sleep, no food and only tiny sips of water. If she endures these trials, she'll prove she's ready to handle all of life's changes and challenges.
Ashly's story airs on Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 8 p.m. ET on "Belief."
4. An Indian holy man who has held his right arm in the air for years
Kumbh Mela, Prayag
Reshma Thakkar, a career-driven woman from Chicago in search of a connection to the divine, quits her job and travels to the banks of the Ganges River in India for the Kumbh Mela, joining millions at the world's largest spiritual gathering. Like many pilgrims, Reshma is drawn to the sadhus, India's holy men. Some practice extreme forms of self-discipline.
In her journey, Reshma meets a sadhu who holds his right arm in the air permanently, even when he sleeps. In their conversation, Reshma learns that the sadhu has been doing this for four years -- and he has eight more to go to complete his vow.
Reshma's story airs on Sunday, Oct. 18, at 8 p.m. ET on "Belief."
5. Monks who create -- and then destroy -- intricate sand mandalas
Nothing (and no one) lasts forever in this life. In a remote Himalayan monastery, Buddhist monks are about to create an extraordinary symbol of this impermanence. They are making a mandala, a map of the universe... with sand.
It's an exercise in discipline and devotion. The colorful and vibrant sand mandala is a painstaking work of sacred art, and this intricate project is not complete -- until it is destroyed. The mandala teaches a difficult but essential lesson for everyone: Life is fleeting.
"Belief" premieres on Sunday, Oct. 18, and air each night at 8 p.m. ET through to Saturday, Oct. 24.
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