Sadhus & Yogis of India
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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.
Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde.
Picart, B.
Amsterdam, 1723-43.


The artist Bernard Picart, who made this engraving in 1729 as part of his encyclopaedia of paganism, had to depend totally on the information of the traveller Tavernier who had witnessed the scene and had some sketches made on the spot over sixty years before. Nevertheless its accuracy is remarkable, although a few mistakes in observation, some artistic inventions for lack of information, and some embellishments were made.

It shows two kinds of ascetics, the long-haired nČked ones (the majority) and the shaven ones (two sitting on the left) one of whom is also nČked. The latter two are probably Jain Digambar monks, the others Shaiva sadhus. The man in the middle with the cloth over his mouth and nose is a Jain Svetambar monk, who must wear the mask and sweep the ground with a broom in order not to inadvertently kill any vermin. (A Jain broom, though, would look quite differently.)
A piquant detail is the fact that well-dressed Indian ladies are visiting the nČked babas.

The most glaring inaccuracy concerns the gigantic ungodly head in the central shrine at the foot of the banyan tree, where according to Tavernier, “... in its trunk, which is hollow, a monster is represented like the head of a deformed woman”. Apparently no sketch was made of the ‘monster’, in all probability a boulder painted red, with eyes pasted on. These types of idols can be found all over India, and represent local gods and goddesses. Picart knew it was a goddess, “... the representation of the first woman, whom they call Mamaniva” (which is probably a corruption of ‘Mahadevi’, the Great Goddess), but for the picture he had to use his imagination, and in those days ‘monsters’ were always gigantic.

The ‘penitences’ are quite correctly portrayed—undoubtedly based on the sketches—and with some minor alterations resemble those of today. The long nails of all the ‘Faquirs’ can be attributed to an artistic exaggeration of their wondrous appearance. These long nails—as Tavernier correctly observed—properly belong only to the ascetic who ‘keeps-his-arms-raised’ for years on end. On the left side of the central shrine is an ascetic of this type, being fed by a woman devotee. It also seems that this baba has an ere+t ph..s. Further to the left, an ascetic hangs over a sling suspended from the tree, performing the austerity of ‘standing’, never lying down or sitting. To the right, the sadhu standing on one knee and one arm is performing the artist’s impression of hatha-yoga. Next to him, the ascetic standing on one leg between two fires might also be a ‘standing’ baba, who is doing ‘fire-austerities’ as well. A lay devotee makes an offering of cowdung cakes. Behind him, leaning against the tree is another ‘two-arms-raised’ baba, and further in the background—betraying the artist’s uncertainty—a woman peering into a sarcophagus (the ‘grave’ mentioned by Tavernier would probably have looked more like a covered hole in the ground) in which the ascetic would practise samadhi, staying underground for days without food or drink, in suspended animation.
On the extreme right — almost off the picture — is a very intriguing scene. Drawn with a certain modesty, but no lack of essential detail, it shows a woman kissing the ascetic’s p-.-.. The ascetics who are thus worshipped, do not show “... any sign of sensuality; but on the contrary, without regarding anyone, and rolling the eyes terribly, you would say they are absorbed in abstraction.”

On the other hand, these practices took place apparently 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.

Nowadays no traces of this practice can be observed — in public anyway — but it seems quite plausible that it actually happened in those days. Some 'proof' for this statement may be furnished by an etching by Solvyns of an avadhuta whose p-.-. is also kissed by devout ladies.
In the Vedas ascetics are mentioned who exhibit themselves n‰ked and with ere+t p-.-., without however having (or at least showing) any se+ual desires. This tapasya is known as urdhvaretas and it is closely associated with Shiva who is capable of this feat. It is shown on the seal of the "Horned God" and many later sculptures and Shiva’s li–ga, his ere+t ph..s, has been worshipped since time immemorial.
This certainly explains Tavernier’s observation, though I've never come across any mention of the kissing of the ph.ll.s in Indian literature. This particular worship—assuming it did take place—might have vanished from the collective memory, as it disappeared in practice, in the course of the increasingly puritanical times.
As an appropriate Western example of vanishing detail by prudish repression: the 1889 English translation of Tavernier’s 1676 book does not mention the kissing of the ascetic’s p-.-., but speaks of “... the women [who] approach them out of devotion in order to do what cannot be named for shame...”

Interestingly, there are no trishuls to be seen. No other paraphernalia either, for that matter.

Some info about Tavernier

Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a French precious stones merchant, made six long journeys to India, travelling all over the place, visiting many royal patrons and checking out the diamond mines. He amassed a small fortune, wrote a book about his travels which was published in 1676, [Tavernier, J.B. Les six voyages de Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. Paris, 1676.] and became so famous that he was personally received by Louis XIV and raised to the peerage.
He made some derogatory comments on the ‘Fakirs, or the professional Mendicants of India, and their penances’, which undoubtedly reflect the opinions of his high caste customers.

“The Fakirs”, as foreigners in those days loosely called all ascetics, although it only means Muslim ascetics, “are all vagabonds and idlers, who blind the eyes of the people by a false zeal, and lead them to believe that all that escapes from their own mouths is oracular ... some are almost naked, like the Fakirs of the idolaters, who have no regular dwellings, and abandon themselves to all kinds of impurity without any shame. For being reverenced as saints, they had abundant opportunities of doing whatsoever evil they wished.”
[Ball, V.A. (ed.). Travels in India by Jean Baptiste Tavernier. London, 1889.]

But this low opinion did not blind him to the facts, which as an inquisitive observator, not being satisfied with mere hearsay, he set out to investigate for himself. 
So he visited

“a grave, where several times during the year a Fakir withdraws, where he gets no light except through a very small hole. He sometimes remains there nine or ten days without drinking or eating, according to his devotion — a thing which I could not easily have believed if I had not seen it. Curiosity led me to go see this penitent in company with the Dutch Commander of Surat, who ordered a watch to be set in order to see whether he did not receive anything to eat by day or night. The watch were unable to discover that he received any nourishment, and he remained seated like our tailors without changing his position either by day or night. He whom I saw was not able to remain more than seven days out of the ten which he had vowed to spend, because the heat stifled him on account of the lamp in the grave. The other kinds of penance, of which I am about to speak, would still further exceed human belief if thousands of men were not witnesses of them.”


For comments: Dolf Hartsuiker