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Shaun Micallef searches for the meaning of life

Tuesday, December 02, 2014
“I want to meet people who are very certain about their faith and place in the universe” - Shaun Micallef

In his youth Shaun Micallef almost joined the priesthood. Now he wonders if he may have missed his one shot at the answers to life’s big questions. Shaun Micallef’s Stairway to Heaven reveals a new side to Shaun as he heads to India and immerses himself in the Hindu world of Gods, Gurus and the Ganges.

In this powerful documentary produced by Artemis International (Who Do You Think You Are?) Shaun is on a mission to find out if he has a greater purpose beyond being an Australian TV personality.

First he throws himself into the middle of the largest, loudest and craziest religious pageant in the world, the Ratha Yatra or Chariot Festival in Puri. Armed with a head full of questions, he tries to understand the complex multi deity faith of the world’s third most popular religion, Hinduism.

“Football is a religion in Australia, but religion is a religion in India,” remarks Shaun as he joins the surging mass of humanity.

After the festivities, the King of Puri and first servant of the Lord Jagannath tells Shaun he must put down his books, forget the deities and Gods and turn his attention inward to find the internal, eternal God within. To achieve this, he must find a great master to guide him.

“I need to de-identify myself in order to re-identify, myself and to do that I have to go somewhere to find a guru to find me,” says Shaun with a skeptical tone.

Shaun travels north to Haridwar where the great Ganges River flows out from the Himalayas. It’s a place full of ashrams, Sadhu priests and Swamis.

Here he soon tires of crowds and in particular the polluted Ganges River. This comes to a head when he is asked to stand in the water and pay it homage.

“I accept to millions of people that the Ganga is a divine element but it’s full of pollutants…far from making me immortal I worry it will have the opposite effect.”

Then just when he has had enough of the nebulous notion of examining himself, Shaun is introduced to Guru Mahant Jagdish Giri Ji. Whilst not speaking a word of each other’s language, they experience an intense connection.

With his Guru on hand the lessons begin and Shaun is sent on a pilgrimage. In soaring heat and humidity he helps Nanu a street vendor and his family carry water from the Ganges back to their village temple a day’s walk away. It’s a humbling experience and one that brings Shaun into close contact with people of strong faith.

Guru Jagdish then takes Shaun on another journey this time up the great Ganges River, higher and higher into the Himalayas in search of the source of existence. Along the way with his Guru's help, Shaun begins to challenge his beliefs, confront his fears, strip back his ego and examine the ‘Self’.

At over three and half thousand meters above sea level they reach the end of the road, Gangotri. Here, near the beginnings of the river, Shaun’s Guru casts him off. He is instructed to go on alone, without speaking or thinking to find the ultimate source of the river and maybe the source of life.

“If this is about showing me that the ego can be shed, then this is a pretty good place to come. There’s no better place to feel insignificant than the Himalayas,” says Shaun.

Shaun Micallef's Stairway To Heaven: Gods, Gurus And The Ganges coming to SBS ONE Sunday December 14th at 7:30pm