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.
Asceticism and selftorture
Tapas Liñga worship Nakedness, ashes, jata Smoking hashish
P-.-. worship Liñgasasana, chabi Urdhvabahu Samadhi
A key concept underlying austerities is tapas, a Sanskrit word which means ‘inner heat’, that is potential magical and spiritual energy. Tapas also means the various techniques of augmenting it, thus asceticism, but in sadhu parlance the Hindi word tapasya is used, or in short tap. And an ascetic performing tapasya is designated as a tapasvi.
Sexual energy, kama, the fire of passion, is the main potential source of tapas — and at the same time it is its opposite. This is expressed in the myth of Shiva killing Kama by the fire — created by tapas — of his third eye, when the cupid-god of desire tries to hit him with his arrow of lust — the heat of kama — in order to annul his yogic power.
In other words, the ascetic must sublimate and control his lust, for its enjoyment would diminish, even destroy his spiritual power.
(See also Eliade on tapas.)
Worshipping the p-.-.
As the Aryans infiltrated into India from the North West in around 1500 BC, they came across an ancient civilization, that we now call the Indus Valley Civilization because of the sites of the archeological finds in the Indus Valley,
This was an agricultural nation, that reached its peak in around 2500 BC, but at the time of the Aryan incursions, it already was in decline because of changing climate (long periods of droughts) and spreading desertification.
The Aryans easily conquered this people, and in their myths and legends (Vedas) expressed their contempt for these black slaves (dasyas), who, to their disgust worshipped the male and female organs of generation. Especially the worship of the p-.-. evoked their derision.
Stone artefacts of this worship were found during archeological excavations that began in the ‘40’s of the 20th century.
Among these Indus Valley peoples there was a special class of people, the ascetics and mystics, perhaps still shamanistic in character, the ‘proto-yogis’, and inventors of asceticism. They were models for, and were modeled on, a deity who later became known as Shiva, the yogi and ascetic among the other more king-like deities of the Hindu pantheon.
Archeological proof for this assertion can be seen in a number of stone tablets, or seals, depicting this yogi of deity, who has designated as the ‘Horned God’ because of his typical headdress reminiscent of the later Shiva.
On one of these seals (left), the most famous one, he is shown sitting nČked, in a yoga posture, surrounded by animals (as Pashupatinath, the Lord of the Beasts), but what is more important: with his p-.-. ere+t.
The "Horned God", found at Mohenjodaro, 2.500 BC; National Museum, Delhi.
This ‘urdhva-liñga’ is one of the characteristics of the later Shiva. He keeps his p-.-. ere+t, but doesn’t shed his seed. He keeps his seed, to keep the inner fire going, as he is performing his tapas (heat inducing austerities). He can make love to his wife Sati for a thousand years, but still he doesn’t shed his seed, and they procreate through the sweat of their exertions.
This ‘urdhva-liñga’ is not only shown on the seal of the "Horned God", but also on many later sculptures — like those of Lakulisha (right) — and millions of Shiva-liñga’s, Shiva’s ere+t ph.—.s, are still being worshipped all over India.
Lakulisha, 8th cent., Vaital Deul Temple,
These myths surrounding Shiva reflect certain ascetic practices of the yogis, who later also became known as sadhus. They also kept their p-.-.-s ere+t, without penetration or ejaculation, and used the se+ual energy thus aroused for spiritual purposes. Their real-life ere+t p-.-.-s were worshipped, just as Shiva’s liñga was worshipped, mostly it would seem by women, who would fondle and kiss them, as was still observed in the 17th century by the traveler Tavernier, and later depicted by Picart.
The ascetics who are thus worshipped, do not show, to quote Tavernier: “... any sign of sensuality; but on the contrary, without regarding anyone, and rolling the eyes terribly, you would say they are absorbed in abstraction.”
Detail from Picart.
Nowadays no traces of this practice can be observed — in public anyway — but it seems quite plausible that it actually happened in those days. But unfortunately, I've never come across any mention of this kissing of the ph.—.s in Indian literature (scientific, historic, theological, mythic, etc.). This particular worship might have vanished from the collective memory, as it disappeared in practice, in the course of the increasingly puritanical times.
Apparently these practices took place not only in India but also elsewhere. Flaubert, in his book “Voyage en Orient”, seems to have witnessed this peculiar ritual in Damascus, in 1850, although it seems he has the more extreme event from hearsay.

On a square, the tomb of a santon [an interesting word Flaubert uses for a samadhi and a fakir]: behind a fence, you see canes, crutches, hats, caps, all rags and tatters against the walls. A monk walks about stark naked, a kind of idiot who makes grimaces and runs around screaming; the barren women come to kiss his member; recently there was a monk who simply mated with them in the middle of the bazaar; immediately pious Turks came to stand around the couple and concealed them with their broad vestments from the prying eyes of passersby.

From Flaubert’s observation we gather that the practice wasn’t just worship, but that it was meant to promote fertility.

Remnants of this real-life p-.-. worship can still be observed with a few nČked sadhus (Nagas) who adorn their p-.-.-s with rings and little bells (see picture of Ram Giri on this page).
Another way in which this ‘friendly’ approach towards se+uality in relation to mysticism was shown, was the concept of tantra-yoga. In its practices penetration and fusion with the female partner was accepted, but ejaculation was not. And here it was also believed that the se+ual energy roused by this practice would translate into spiritual energy.
But this tantra-yoga in its pure form was probably never very widespread; it would almost always have degenerated into orgies, or at least the suspicion of the surrounding society would have been such, which would have made it almost impossible.
But practices such as these have also been done in Christianity, in Russia, in the 19th century, as is suggested in the biography of Rasputin (by Edward Radzinsky), who mentions the sect of the Chlysti, who practiced ‘sinful’ acts in groups in order to gain deliverance, and who of course were also accused of organizing orgies.

The Aryans, who were so disgusted by p-.-. worship of the Indus Valley people, as conquerors occupied the upper strata of society, and as such became known as the Brahmans (priestly class), and the Ksatryas (the warrior class of rulers). They had brought their own religion with them, the Vedic religion with their own pantheon. But gradually their religion and that of the conquered peoples merged, fused, and eventually became known as Hinduism.
The Brahman priests took over many of the aboriginal beliefs and practices, especially the ascetic practices (yoga) and mystical metaphysics.
Ascetic in sens-al embrace,
Konarak. 11th-12th century.
Worshipping the liñga
As the aboriginal deity Shiva entered the Vedic-Hindu pantheon, he was accepted on condition that he sever his p-.-., that subsequently in a very abstract form could be worshipped as the stone Shiva-liñga. Ever since that time the Brahman priests and theologians have been at pains to further separate the liñga from the original p-.-., to the point where it has become the abstract notion of a linguistic ‘sign’.
For the Brahmans, from a certain point in history on, contact with another human being has always been regarded as defiling, let alone contact with a being from an inferior class. Also se+ual union, even with their own wife, was (and still is) regarded as extremely polluting, and would necessitate many purificatory rituals and practices. For them, the se+ual organs themselves are of course filthy and disgusting.

This notion (and the prudery it involved) was subsequently reinforced by the Moguls and the British, both — Muslims and Christians — members of evangelistic religions and very prude nations themselves.
Mathura, Kankali Tila, free-standing liñga.
Pre-Kushana phase 2, ca. 1st cent. BC.
Subjugating the p-.-.
Gradually this puritanical belief invaded the world of sadhus and yogis, where at least some were seriously affected by it, though the majority still held on to the original notion from ‘before the fall’.
So we see, for instance, that ‘nČkedness’ which was originally required of all sadhu sects, gradually begins to disappear, until nowadays only the Nagas are nČked, and that only or mostly on special occasions.
The yogic idea of building up and preserving se+ual energy by austerities, to be utilized as spiritual energy, is still adhered to, but the means of preservation have greatly changed.
Instead of employing mental methods for channeling this ‘friendly’ se+ual energy, se+ has become the enemy who has to be conquered and the organ that causes these disturbing feelings has to punished — and the females, who are behind it all, have to be avoided.
So it came about — let’s say in about the 17th century — that on the one hand we find ascetics’ p-.-.-s being kissed, and on the other hand ascetics who chain their p-.-.-s to heavy metal chains, sometimes even to the ground. As it was observed by Abbé Dubois:

[pp. 519-520] There are penitents professing the principles of moksha-sadhaka even at the present day. Some of them go about quite nČked, the object of this indecent practice being to convince the admiring public that they are no longer susceptible to the temptations of lust. There is also a class of religious mendicants, called Bairagis, to be met with everywhere, who show themselves in public in a state of nature.
[footnote: This would now be punishable by law.—Ed.]

The people evince the greatest admiration for these unclothed devotees, and express the utmost wonder as to how they succeed in controlling a passion which is generally regarded as beyond control. Some say that the Bairagis owe this impotence to extreme sobriety in eating and drinking, while others assert that it is the result of the use of certain drugs. As to their alleged sobriety it is a mere fable. Generally speaking, they eat all kinds of meat and drink all kinds of intoxicating liquors without any shame, the practice of moksha-sadhaka and their status as Sannyasi acquitting them of all blame in this respect.
[footnote: This is only true of the lower types of Bairagis.—Ed.]

According to other authorities, the Bairagis attain this condition by purely mechanical means, that is, they attach to their generative organs a heavy weight which they drag about until the power of muscles and nerves is completely destroyed.
Another ‘purely mechanical means’ of achieving this is the wearing of wooden or metal chastity belts (see kathia babas and lohalangaris), which is a rather recent phenomenon, as I’ve been informed, that is, it having started about three hundred years ago. This is still being done, on quite a large scale, but chains have disappeared — apart from some small decorative items on or through the p-.-. which can still be seen today.

Other methods of punishing the p-.-. — and ‘pushing’ the se+ual energy into ‘higher channels’ — are the stunts with a stick or sword, that are used to twist the genitals in a most painful fashion (chabi, or ‘key turning’), and the lifting of heavy stones with the p-.-. (liñgasana). (See below) These exercises also serve demonstrative purposes — to show the sadhus’ power over nature — and to impress the faithful into giving money — and the latter is perhaps the most important motivation.

Going one step further with ‘purely mechanical means’, and actually making ere+tion or se+ impossible by 'breaking the p-.-.', so-called 'tanga-tora', is a rather mysterious subject.
The most extensive description I found in Gross:

[p. 470] ... tang-tora-diksha, a Naga initiation, performed by the bija-guru, the ‘semen-preceptor’ who ritually ma.turbates the initiate, offering the semen into the sacred fire as a sacrifice. He then jerks hard on the p-.-., first to the left and then to the right, breaking muscles, blood vessels and nerves required for an ere+tion. Some say that a knife is used to sever these tissues. The p-.-. becomes permanently limp. Then they stretch and lengthen the p-.-., sometimes by hanging heavy rocks at the end of it, and wrap it around a pole. Putting a ring through the p-.-. and chaining it to the ground.

It is also mentioned by Ghurye:

[p. 94] In the second stage the ascetic is called a Tangatoda. The term carries a significance which has something to do with castration. Repeated inquiries for elucidation met only with shy reactions.

But as far as I've been able to ascertain, I really doubt if it ever took place. As Ghurye observed, sadhus either don't want to talk about it, or they start laughing, and pretend it's really a big affair. But since they hardly know anything about anatomy, they portray it as 'breaking a bone', and this makes it even harder to believe. I've never met a sadhu who had it done to him, or at any rate, confessed it had been done to him.
I also asked quite a few sadhus, and to demonstrate the confusion even among sadhus, I quote Shambhu Bharati, a Naga baba I met in Uttarkashi, who maintains that tanga-tora only occurs amongst the Udasin!
But according to another Naga, Vijendra Puri, who lived in Uttarkashi but now has gone to Kailash, it is typical for Nagas. He demonstrated the breaking of the p-.-. by twisting his index-finger. This baba also performed the chabi (key), twisting his really long p-.-. around a stick, and he was an ex-one-arm-baba, so if it was still happening in recent history he would have been the ideal candidate for tanga-tora. But he wasn't.

The ultimate punishment, of course, would be castration or dismemberment, but this is certainly not being done by Indian ascetics, since — as they'd all recognize — it would destroy one of the most important chakras (energy-centres) of the body.
There have been some Christian sects, however, who made this a regular practice.

Liñgasana and chabi
2339 Strangely enough, lifting weights with the p-.-. does not have a special name, but is generally designated as a kriya (yogic exercise). Lal Baba (left) uses the term liñgasana (p-.-.-posture), which he probably coined himself.
Lal Baba keeps a special triangular stone for his liñgasana on which is painted "30 kilos". He has developed this exercise into a regular show and even advertises himself as "liñgasana Naga Baba" on painted boards (in the background). He is a small man so he has to stand on two bricks to lift the stone a few centimetres off the ground. But still, no mean feat: thirty kilos must be more than half his own weight. 
In a sense it is reminiscent of the now historic kara-lingi, the ball-and-chain with which the p-.-. was continuously weighed down.
Lifting weights with the p-.-., as done here by Shyam Puri (right), is in essence the same exercise as the chabi (see below). It is a 'miracle' that the p-.-. is not torn off. The scene recalls the chains used in the past to weigh down the p-.-. continuously, but this exercise is now only occasionally done, and then for a minute or so. Just long enough to show the sadhu's power, his transcendence of se+uality.

With a certain degree of 'exhibitionism' these Babas are displaying their various p-.-.-penances. But then, they are here to give darshan, to show themselves and the visible signs of their austerities to the faithful; and the erotic element is lacking of course.
In their nČkedness they do not emanate se+uality. On the contrary, they control, inhibit the se+ual 'vibrations', retaining its energy so it can be mystically transformed into psychic and spiritual power. 

If these acrobatics, performed here by , seem at first glance to be devoid of any spiritual meaning, it must be recognized that in Hinduism all levels of religion — from gross materialism to sublime spirituality — can be experienced and expressed simultaneously.
(Left) The baba on the left wears a metal ring around his p-.-., an ornamental remnant of the large chains some ascetics used to wear some time ago.
The baba on the right performs a yogic exercise which goes by the name of chabi, meaning 'key'. The aim of this exercise is not just retention of the se+ual energy, but forcing it back, and 'up'. Put in simplistic yoga 'mechanics': keeping the p-.-. down so the kundalini may rise.
(Right) Mahant Rameshwar Giri performs the chabi. He has gone to Kailas.
Urdhvabahu or 'raised arm' baba's
Guided by an accomplished Guru, ek-bahu babas gradually force the arm up and at first may support it with a crutch.
This mortification can be executed in various degrees of excellence: the straighter the arm and the closer to the head, the better.
Obviously, it is quite a handicap, the more so since everything has to be done with the left hand, the ‘dirty’ hand.

Amar Barati (left) has been an ek-bahu baba for over thirty years now. And he has decided never to bring his arm down, as is usually done after a period of twelve years.
Bhola Giri (right).
Vasant Giri (left) has been an ek bahu —“one-arm”— baba for twelve years. Soon he may bring his arm down.
Formerly, as is shown in this detail of Picart's 17th cent. engraving (right), it was done with two arms, rendering the baba's totally helpless, so they had to be fed by their women devotees. This baba also seems to have an er.ct p-.-.
See also an old photo of this incredible tapasya.
The tapasya of keeping the right arm up — for twelve years or more — may lead to permanent physical damage.
The muscles atrophy, the bones calcify, and the arm withers away, it becomes a useless stick. Ascetics who practise this tapasya are called urdhva-bahu babas (‘vertical-arm babas’) or ek-bahu babas (‘one-arm’ babas). This tapasya has to be completed by bringing the arm down. If this is not done properly, it may result in insanity, or death.

Once upon a time the ek-bahu babas were quite numerous, but nowadays, as far as I know, it is being practised by only a few.

On this monolithic 7th cent. relief in Mahabalipuram, called "Arjuna's Penance", we see the tapasya of urdhvabahu combined with khareshwari (top left and bottom left).
In the lower right corner, we can also see a cat and a rat performing the same tapasya.
N@kedness, ashes and jata (long hair)
Being nČked all the time (which is seldom practised nowadays), wearing ashes and jata are considered mild forms of tapas.
As a typical feature of ascetics jata is already mentioned in the ancient Vedas, as in the 'Hymn of the longhaired sage'.

The sacredness of jata is exemplified by Shiva's powerful hair, with which he captures and controls the river Ganges, whose torrential descent from the heavens would otherwise have deluged the world.
His jata are the foliage and the roots of the Himalayan trees. The tangled roots hanging down from the branches of the sacred Banyan tree are also called jata; it is his tree, with his jata.
For most of the time, jata is worn in a twisted knot or bundle on top of the head.
It is 'opened' for special moments and rituals, like performing puja or taking a bath. Jata is treated with reverence: the strands are rubbed with ashes and cowdung, both sacred and purifying; it is scented and adorned with flowers.

Shyam Giri and Ram Giri, two Naga babas of the Juna Akhara. Their nČked bodies are rubbed with ash from the holy fire.
  Ram Sharan Puri
Formerly Ramanadis also had their digambar (nČked) section, but nowadays it is only the Shaiva Nagas who practise ascetic nudity. But Ramandis do wear ashes and jata. As do Nath babas and Udasin.
Smoking hashish
Many sadhus smoke hash or grass as an everyday ritual. In their ascetic way of life as well as in their use of hash they follow god Shiva. They worship Shiva as the Lord of Yogis and as the hash smoking god, the Lord of Hash, forever intoxicated, forever High.
In fact, for many sadhus their main 'self-mortification' seems to be the smoking of hashish.

In all sadhu-sects smokers are to be found - and nonsmokers.
Some sadhus even condemn smoking as a bad habit of the lower castes, and as counterproductive.Although nowadays hash is illegal in India, the smoking by sadhus - as an age-old tradition - is still tolerated.
But once more, in India too the times they are 'a changing.
And nowadays babas sometimes get arrested for possession of hash.

Hari Giri, a Naga baba, covered in ash,
is smoking a chilam filled with hashish and tobacco.
An ancient tapasya, bur rarely performed nowadays, is samadhi, usually meaning enlightenment, but in this case referring to a state of suspended animation, a virtual death which may last for a period of days or weeks, during which the spirit leaves the body and travels on the astral plane. The body stays behind, under the ground – in a ‘grave’– or in a casket under water.
I made this photo in 1980. It was in fact the first picture I took of a sadhu, though only his hand sticking out of the sand is visible.
The hand was slowly moving the mala through its fingers. No way could be seen that this person buried in the sand could breath.
The sitting boy is keeping watch over the donations.

Combined with other 'miraculous' events that day (a partial solar eclipse), it would eventually impel me to start my "camera yoga."

A Japanese female sadhu, Mata Keiko Aikawa, is about to descend the ladder into her 'grave', where she would stay, under the ground for five days (at the Kumbha Mela in Ujjain in 1992).
On the right is her Guru, Pilot Baba, who has performed this 'miracle' twenty-seven times.

More recently Pilot Baba stayed under water – without casket – for four days. Reported in the Times of India, 9 November 1992, he said: ‘I have mastered the way to survive in conditions akin to that in the womb.’ It is also reported that the Indian Rationalist Association accused him of fraud.
At the Allahabad Kumbha in 2001 Mela Mata Keiko Aikawa also stayed underground for five days.

The body stays in an airtight chamber under the ground — a ‘grave’ — but quite dissimilar from the sarcophagus depicted by Picart.
Another type of samadhi: death of a sadhu.
Sadhus are not cremated as the common Hindus are, but either buried sitting in padmasana, or tied to a chair, loaded with a stone and thrown into a holy river, like the Ganges, shown here.

Usually then they are seen no more, eaten by the creatures in the water, but this unfortunate baba was washed to a shallow part of the river.

Of a dead Shaiva sadhu it is said: "He has gone to Kailas."
Vaishnavas go to Vaikunth.
All supposedly are in samadhi.

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