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.
Foreigner Sadhus
Every foreigner in India, no matter how long he stays and how completely he 'indianizes', will always remain an alien.
Yet foreigners can become sadhus too, and the locals consider them just as holy as Indian sadhus. Especially the simple rustics — 75% of the total population still lives in the countryside — treat them with great respect and ask for their blessing. The city-dwellers, the modern, Westernized Indians often show less understanding.

Though many nationalities are represented, and both male and female, most of these foreigners are Italian or French.Some foreign sadhus are 'part-timers', who time and again plunge into the adventure of sadhu-life but keep their ties to the home-front.
Others burn all their bridges, as it should be done, and totally commit themselves to the realization of the sadhu ideals.

[But for those who aspire to become a sadhu, see some advice at the bottom of this page.]

A French sadhu a hundred years ago.
Foreigner Sadhus with Shaivas
Mangalanand Giri, an initiate of the Juna Akhara, at the Kumbha Mela in 2001 at Allahabad.
A.k.a. Goagil.
Rampuri, an initiate of the Juna Akhara, at the Kumbha Mela in 2001 at Allahabad. In the background the old Shri Mahant of the Juna Akhara, Arjun Puri. Rampuri published an autobiography in 2005 about his experiences as a sadhu.

Vasudev Puri, an initiate of the Juna Akhara, in 2015, also of Italian extraction.

Mangalanand Giri, Rampuri and Vasudev Puri were made Shri Mahants in the Juna Akhara during the Kumbh Mela of 2010 in Haridwar. 

Parvat Giri (left), an Italian sadhu who is a chela of Dipak Giri (above) and who has been a khareshwari — i.e. 'standing sadhu' — for over two years.
He is the first foreign sadhu ever to practise such a serious tapasya. His guru, Dipak Giri, is a longtime baba of Italian descent, and a Mahant in the Avahana Akhara.
The last contingent of the Juna Akhara procession leaves camp on their way to a holy dip in the Shipra river at Ujjain. These are the recently initiated chelas and the babas of lower stature.
All the way in the back the two foreign babas were appointed their place. The one with dark hair is Santosh Puri, an Italian baba.
Foreigner Sadhus with Vaishnavas
So today there are at least a few hundred foreign sadhus, male and female, some of whom have been sadhu for over twenty years, and it seems that their number is still increasing.

They are formally initiated into various sects, receive their sadhu name, and in appearance and behaviour conform to the sadhu life-style.

(Above left) Mohan Das, a Japanese sadhu, being blessed by his guru of two years, Mathura Das. According to ancient tradition, the pupil must carry out all his teacher's chores, and Mohan Das acts almost as the slave of his master. However, he does so willingly, since such work brings much positive "karma" to wipe away the sins of previous lives.
See story Holy Smoke.
(Above right) Charan Das, originally an American, lived as a sadhu in India for over twenty years. Cheerful and without cares, he roamed the country for part of the year, going from one holy place to the other, visiting with brother-sadhus.
He has gone to Vaikunth.
Two stories with foreigner sadhus: An American Sadhu
A true story, all facts.
Holy Smoke
A true story, all facts
Some advice for those who aspire to become a sadhu:

Over the years I’ve had many e-mails from Westerners pronouncing their desire of becoming a sadhu, or their wish (or asking about the probability) of meeting a “real” sadhu. Therefore, to answer those kinds of e-mail expected in the future, I’ve included the text below.

If you feel drawn to the sadhu life, go to India and make a pilgrimage to the holy places. There you can talk with sadhus and swamis. Or even in the West you can start: buy a book on hatha yoga and begin to practice. Start to practice meditation. So you'll find out for yourself.

If you are seeking spirituality, you should certainly go to India, and check things out. But have no illusions about yourself following the way of the sadhu, especially if you're not an Indian by birth and upbringing. For foreigners it is extremely difficult to follow the path of the sadhu. Very few "succeed", but it will be very interesting for sure. And what is success anyway?
In India too there are many other ways. For instance, you might also go to an ashram (for a while).
So go and find out for yourself. Don't mind somebody else's opinion; don't believe but investigate. But beware of the religious crooks.
It will be very interesting experience, to say the least. Travel by itself is already a kind of renunciation, especially so in India. Go in the winter. Visit the holy places.
Don't listen to teachers, generally distrust teachers; do your own thing.

As it is, renouncing in the West means being a bum, but to a certain extent, that is the case in India too. The higher and middle class people generally regard sadhus as bums, apart from a few very successful ones — the media-types. The lower classes though, have/show a lot of respect for all sadhus (even foreign-sadhus), and they are still in the majority.
The hash-smoking sadhus are generally more laid-back and permissive. But perhaps they are generally a bit more "extortionist" than non-smokers, since they need quite a lot of money to support their habit. Hash is expensive nowadays in India.
Hash is very relaxing, joyful, inspiring, etcetera, and the sadhus claim it has been part of their culture for ages, but I think it is safe to say that it doesn't provide mystical insights. Especially being of such poor quality as it is today (the good hash is being sold only to foreigners, who can afford the extremely high price).

Which sadhus are sincere or which are showmen? It takes years of experience to tell the difference. But as long as you stay a “tourist of the occult” and don't become a disciple (or a researcher) it's not really that important.
In the eyes of the Indian Rationalist Association all sadhus are frauds (and all priests and wonderworkers, for that matter).
And, strange though it may seem, in a way I agree with them, certainly for as far as the sadhus' pretensions to holiness and enlightenment are concerned. But there are exceptions; there are honest and sincere Babas & Yogis & Swamis, even humble ones who are well aware that their way is but one of many, and that enlightenment may prove elusive.
And isn't that the case in all religions?

Always beware though. "Holiness" is not the same as "goodness", as we in the West tend to think. So even the “good” ones can be real rascals.

While meeting sadhus, what is proper etiquette?
Be respectful; give them some money, fruit, tea, cigarettes, hash. Sine they principally don't work they depend on donations. But if they ask too much (let's say more than a hundred rupees) don't give them anything.

About the number of sadhus, and their future, I'm quite pessimistic. There are some factors that might produce a little increase in numbers (growth of the population, the high unemployment rate, and the rigidity of the caste system) (though the latter factor is losing it's importance rapidly), but sadhus are (or rather were) very much supported by the rural population. But these are exposed to Western ways through TV and, what's more important, they are slowly but surely being replaced by the middle-class, who favour the temples and priests (and who are even more exposed to — and receptive of — Western ways).

Strangely enough it's the Westerners now who are most supportive of the sadhus, but there are not enough of them to support them all. And being disappointed by the lack of spirituality, especially among the younger babas, the Westerners will lose interest real quickly.

But who knows? India and Hinduism are perhaps unpredictable?


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