Sadhus & Yogis of India
Intro Shiva & Shaivas Vishnu & Vaishnavas Sadhvis Tapas Shaiva
Tapas Vaishnava Kumbha Mela Foreign sadhus Notes & Biblio Old photos
There are some words (concerning se+) I cannot write in full or in the normal way anymore, because these generate unwanted interest via search engines on the internet.
Holy Extremists
by Dolf Hartsuiker Fiction, based on facts.
In the early dawn, the mighty mountain rises darkly against the bright orange sky. Here, so the Hindus believe, the gods once descended to earth and since time immemorial this mountain has been a sacred place.
I'm not alone, I'm in the middle of a wide, endless stream of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Every February at new moon, the birthday of god Shiva is celebrated here.
But this mass-pilgrimage has another reason as well: on this day more than a thousand sadhus will gather at the foot of the holy mountain and these are really worth the trip, also for a non-Hindu.
I have spent altogether four years in India and learned a bit of Hindi during that time. Ever since my first sojourn, these sadhus, who are revered as holy men by the Hindus, have fascinated me. These men and women — there are about five million — have chosen a form of worshipping god, to which a normal middle-European would react with incomprehensive astonishment.
To Hindus, Shiva is male Consciousness and female Power, the principle of Love. He is n‰ked and without a beard, but he has very long hair, twisted into a bundle.
He is the Lord of Yogis and completely covered with blue-grey ashes, the symbol of death and regeneration.
There are babas who continuously keep one arm up for years on end; others `stand' day and night, even while sleeping, or they sit in one place and stay sitting there, till they die. And in order to control their se+ual urge — because sadhus must live chaste — some reach for extreme methods: they wrap their p-.-. around a stick, or, the intensified form, they wrap it around the blade of a sword. And I have seen myself, how a baba tied a rope to his p-.-. and in this way lifted a heavy stone.
I decided to make a photo-book about sadhus, not only because of my fascination, but also because I believed that soon they wouldn't be there anymore in an India, which is changing into a modern industrial state.

But for now, they are still there in great numbers, without worries about new members. And as ever they are revered as holy men, wise teachers and understanding advisers, through whom the light of the deity shows itself. Just to see them is a joyful moment for many believers, and a source of new spiritual strength.
The sadhus who have gathered here, have chosen Lord Shiva as their example. They sit in a high-walled courtyard around several fires. One of them, about 50 years old, is an impressive baba, whom I have met before. He is sitting cross-legged behind a small fire. His n‰ked body is completely covered with blue-grey ashes. "Om namah Shivaya," I say and bow respectfully. `I bow my head to Shiva', that is the traditional salutation towards a sadhu.
Silently smiling, he gestures for me to sit next to him, and silently he continues with his ritual act: he sprinkles fresh marigolds around the fire, reciting magical formulae. With sadhus even the most normal activities like cooking, eating or bathing, become ceremonies in worship of Shiva.
The sadhus emulate their Lord Shiva, follow him, especially in his asceticism, which to them is the way towards enlightenment: to control the body so the spirit will be liberated. Sarasvati Giri, that is his name, rather shows by being nČked, innocent like a child, that he is beyond all lust of the flesh and thus also beyond shame. Even female devotees may look at him and that in prudish India, where a movie in which a harmless kiss is shown, is considered very thrilling.

Sarasvati Giri is a real master at the damaru. He rattles two different sized drums simultaneously, each at a different speed, creating a specific rhythm.
The damaru is the musical instrument of Shiva, with which he creates the primordial sound, the origin of all sounds.

Not far away sits an elderly Naga in an orange dress, over which he wears a kind of rosary with beads of amber and crystal. Hari Giri is his name, and he obviously enjoys much respect — in any case the pilgrims give generous donations, up to a 100 rupees (a few dollars), and a large crowd has gathered around him, listening attentively to his stories, which he recounts with great ease and humour. For example the story of the thief, who was sentenced by the king to have his nose cut off.
As soon as the punishment was carried out, the thief ran through the town beaming with joy and shouted: "I'm enlightened, I'm enlightened!" When the king heard this, he became jealous and had his nose cut off as well. That was the revenge of the thief... All laugh and applaud enthusiastically.

Hari Giri has two disciples: a young man, whom I estimate to be twenty, whose hair reaches to his waist, and a good-looking young woman, who with loving care and devotion massages the feet of her Guru.
Respectfully I bow for Hari Giri, who nods at me smiling, and I sit down near the young man. Gradually we get into conversation, his name is Mohan Giri, and I ask him how old he is. I can't believe it when he tells me: he is already 45! I shake my head, no, that's impossible. He laughs and is amused by my incredulity. "Yoga," he explains. "And se+ual abstinence." I ask him, how he became a baba; an improper question, I know, since sadhus usually don't talk about their `former' life. But Mohan Giri doesn't mind my impoliteness, and is even prepared to tell me his life-story. When he was six, his parents died; there was nobody who wanted to take care of the boy and so he had to live out on the streets and beg for his food. "That was my karma," he says, his fate. One day he met an old baba, who took him in, and together they wandered through the land. But then the old baba died, and he had to look for a new Guru. Finally he found him... Mohan Giri glances at Hari Giri, who meanwhile is growing tired of all the stories he has to tell and all the questions he has to answer. He has kindly requested his audience to depart, so he can lie down and take a nap. Mohan Giri smiles. "This is the free life," he says. "We know no worries, we know only God."
The young woman, who had massaged the feet of her Guru, comes over to us and sits next to Mohan Giri.
She is quite exceptional; not more than ten percent of sadhus are female, and most `sadhvis', as they are called, are old widows. A woman, whose husband has died, is usually relegated to the margins of Indian society. A life as sadhvi offers the women the opportunity tobecome old in dignity. And there have always been highly revered female Hindu saints. Sadhvis are treated with great respect and addressed as 'Mataji', 'Revered Mother'.
But such a young woman as sadhvi is unusual. I bow to her. "Mataji," I say and request her to allow me the question of how she became sadhvi. She looks the other way and keeps silent. Only when Mohan Giri encourages her, does she start talking about her former life.
Sobhna Giri belongs to the Juna Akhara.
She entered sadhu life when still a child and thus committed herself to life-long celibacy and other ascetic practices.
She was 13, when she ran away from home. "In a dream my Guru appeared," she tells. "My soul yearned for union with God, and so I went in search of my Guru."
And indeed, at a festival, where many sadhus came, she recognized Hari Giri as the Guru of her dream. He, however, didn't want to have anything to do with her. But she was firmly convinced of her vocation as sadhvi.
Her parents tried desperately to dissuade her from her plans — to no avail. Finally Hari Giri accepted her as disciple and her parents agreed as well. Ever since, Devi Giri serves her Guru, the 'Dispeller of Darkness'. In Hindi there are six words for love: 'prema' means the purest form of love. Devi Giri looks at me and says: "it is prema." She wants to stay with him until he dies. Then she will look for a new Guru, or live alone, as a respected mataji.
779 Shiva's birthday celebrations last for four days, after which I travel on to Ayodhya, the birthplace of god-king Rama. In the Ramayana epos it is told how his wife Sita was kidnapped by a ten-headed demon, absolute Evil, and how he fights and vanquishes the demon.
In Ayodhya there are many sadhus who emulate Rama. One of them is Bhagwan Das, who became famous as `standing baba'; only for sleeping did he lean over a kind of swing. Now I see him in the courtyard of his temple pleasantly reclining on a sofa. "Sita Rama, Sita Rama," he intones and kindly orders me to take my seat on the ground. His face is painted in bright red, yellow and white; his moustache is 'cemented' with white clay, all in the shape of Rama's traditional symbol, and in the middle of the forehead a large red oval stands forth, the mark of Sita, the female principle. Bhagwan Das is stark n‰ked except for a metal chastity belt, which covers his genitals. He has worn it almost all his life.
Bhagwan Das; he has gone to Vaikunth.
After a while I ask him why he is sitting down now and doesn't 'stand' anymore. "Doctor's orders," he answers. His legs had become extremely swollen and covered with sores; moreover there was immediate danger of thrombosis. Then he followed the doctor's advice; a party was organized and Bhagwan Das festively sat down.
"How long did you stand?" I ask.
"28 years," he replies modestly.
"28 years? Whence does one get so much willpower?"
Bhagwan Das smiles and stares silently into space.
A small group of old men and women enters the courtyard of the temple. Their clothes are rather worn; these people surely had to save for years to make this pilgrimage. Timidly they approach the famous Bhagwan Das, fold their hands respectfully and bow low. Bhagwan Das raises his right hand and gives them the blessing of Rama.
You can tell by their looks: They're happy.

Much more info and many photos in my book Contact Dolf Hartsuiker