|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.|
Of the first edition of my book an English version (upper left) Sadhus, Holy Men of India, and an American (under left) Sadhus, India's Mystic Holy Men, were publishe. The contents are exactly the same, only the title, cover and publisher are different.
|Since 2014 there is a second edition, by the same publishers, now both titled Sadhus, Holy Men of India, with small adjustments in the text.|
|If the book is not available in the local bookstore:
Barnes & Noble (First edition antiquarian) en Amazon (First edition antiquarian).
|I donated some 1500 of my slides of sadhus to the Britisch Museum as the Hartsuiker Archive. Scans of these slides will be gradually published on their website.|
|Many sadhus maintain a sacred fire, the dhuni, which is the centre around which their daily rituals and ascetic exercises are performed. In fact, it should be regarded as the sadhu's 'home' and his 'temple'. As an object of worship, offerings are made to the fire.
The sacred fire and its ashes are obviously related to Shiva, the fiery god and ash-covered Yogi, and is thus a prime symbol of ascetic status, indicating self-sacrifice, transformation in the 'fire of wisdom', and rebirth from the ashes.
Agni or 'Fire'; or the 'god of fire'.
Fire and its relation to the sacrifice was the dominating feature of the fire-cult in Vedic times. The sacrifice was a rite of sympathetic magic in which an offering was made to the gods, the celestial controllers of the mysterious and potent forces of nature, to ensure the continuance of conditions favourable to mankind. To be effective it was essential that the oblation should reach these all-powerful beings. None was more suitable to act as messenger than Agni, whose flames on the altar tended always to rise, as did the aroma of the 'burnt offerings', symbolizing the ascent of the oblation itself.
Important functions are attributed to Agni. He is inherent in every god; he is the priest of the gods, as well as the god of the priests; the honoured guest in every home, who by his magical power drives away the demons of darkness. Because he is born anew with every kindling, he is forever young and is thus the bestower of life and of children, and places seed in women. Being immortal he is able to confer immortality on his devotees. His chariot is drawn by red horses, who leave behind them a blackened trail. He clears a way through the impenetrable jungle and consumes the unwanted forest, so providing 'space' for his followers.
The funeral pyre is the altar of the dead, the last oblation to Agni.
| Shivas abode was the burning ground, which was covered with hair and bones, full of skulls and heads, thick with vultures and jackals, covered with a hundred funeral pyres, an unclean place covered with flesh, a mire of marrow and blood, scattered piles of flesh, resounding with the cries of jackals There is nothing purer than a cremation ground, Shiva declared.
The hosts of ghostly beings that are his companions loved to dwell there, and Shiva did not like to stay anywhere without them (MBh.13.128.13-16, 18).
Revulsion as a means of detachment had its form in the imagery of the cremation ground. It dwelt not on the cessation of life and the purgation of the body through the consuming fire, but on the byproducts of physical integration. Though gruesome, they were less terrifying than disgusting. Revulsion in its last degree of sublimation reaches up to holiness.
Shiva had turned away from procreation and dwelled in the cemeteries where he liked to stay. His necrophilia complemented his aversion to procreation.
The explanation that the dreadful ghosts concentrated there around him would not harm people who thus could live free from fear was only part of his entire statement which meant that those who feared the awful ghosts were destined to remain outsiders. Only heroes could be near him in the cremation ground, heroes who had defied death and liberated themselves from passions and fear. These were the true devotees of Rudra in his form of dread.
The metaphor of the cemetery is on the same level of intensity of realization with the myths of Shiva dancing while he carried Satis dead body. These extreme situations are symbols of Shivas power that defies death. Shiva liked his ghostly entourage. It attracted to his presence those who had nothing to fear, who had mastered the onslaught of the multiple categories of threatening powers that were fatal to those who were less than heroes, and who could not control the frightening phantoms because they had not controlled themselves.
The rite of cremation, well known in many countries of the ancient world, has a special justification in the case of the Hindu because of his belief in the reincarnation of the soul in a new body, human or other, a belief which excludes the idea of the resurrection of the body as held by Christians and Muslims, who ordinarily look forward to the miraculous reanimation of the corpse by divine decree at the Day of Judgment. [Therefore their elaborate tombs] From the Hindu point of view, it is evident that when the soul quits its mortal tenement, that tenement is of no further use or value, and its destruction by the purifying element of fire is for him a reasonable and convenient mode of disposing of the dead.
| The Hindus recognize several Abodes of Bliss for the souls of those who have expiated their sins by repeated transmigrations and by the practice of virtue.
There are four principal abodes:
The pleasures enjoyed in these several abodes are all corporal and sens-al.
When you'd go to India and happened to encounter some sadhus you might be disappointed.
Especially at Kumbha Melas, one meets a lot of the greedy, gold-wearing numbskulls. Contemporary Nagas don't fight much anymore (only occasionally at Kumbha Melas, such as the one in Haridwar 1998), but the majority don't meditate much either. They just smoke chilams and drink tea.
But as things stand now in India, all sadhus are still considered holy men (though holy in varying degrees, I should add) by a large part of the population, no matter how unspiritual the behaviour and attitude of many babas. That's the mystery, the paradox.
| With their costumes, their make-up, their 'props' and their public appearances, the sadhus in a sense resemble 'performance artists'. Many sadhus show great artistry in painting their face, adorning their body, decorating their stage and performing their act.
As emulators — as artists — of the divine, the sadhus endeavour to express the unearthly beauty of divinities. The sadhus' performances are both for the spiritual benefit of the public and for their own good, since their primary 'audience' is formed by the deities themselves.
| All water, be it the sea, rivers, lakes or rain, is for the Hindus a symbol of life and is considered to be of divine character. Outstanding in this respect are three sacred rivers, the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati, of which the first is the most important. As the Ganga is feminine, it is often pictured as a woman, possessing long, flowing hair. As a goddess, Ganga washes away the sins of those fortunate enough to have their ashes thrown into her holy waters. In a hymn to the Ganga included in the Brahmavaivarta Purana, Shiva himself says:
The touch of the divine body of Ganga is believed to change anyone who comes in contact with it into a sanctified being.
|My observations at the last Kumbha Melas (Haridwar 1998, Allahabad 2001) have reinforced my opinion that purity of sadhana and "spirituality" (perhaps some more categories), are in accelerating decline. One important factor here is the gradual disappearance of the old generation of sadhus. These are replaced by young Mahants and Shri Mahants, more interested in temporal than "spiritual" power.
So far the number of sadhus seems to remain steady. Even their prosperity seems to be increasing; perhaps the result of support from the growing middle class in India. Perhaps also because nowadays quite a few turn to a new clientele: the foreigners.
See also what Oman, a hundred years ago, has to say about the future of sadhuism.
|[For (partial) excerpts of some works, click the links.]
Abbott, J.E. & N.R. Godbole; Stories of Indian Saints; Delhi, 1996 (repr. 1933)
|Much more info and many photos in my book||Contact Dolf Hartsuiker|