Wordless Wednesdays – The sadhus of Varanasi

I know it’s supposed to be ‘Wordless’ Wednesdays, but I’m going to share more than a word today- on ‘Sadhus’. ‘
Sadhus’ or ‘Sanyasis’ are people who have given up all attachments to society – in search of ‘Moksha’ or emancipation, liberation or enlightenment. Sadhus are supposed to be India’s holiest men. However, with so many stories of fake Godmen in India, it’s hard to trust anybody donning the saffron (orange) cloth, with hair in dreadlocks or jatas. Since being a sadhu means giving up worldly pleasures, these people neither have a home nor an income and live off donations from charitable people. It’s easy to mistake a mendicant for a sadhu and vice-versa.
I’ve shared a few pictures I took of ‘sanyasis’ during my recent trip to Varanasi. It’s hard to say who is, and who is not. One man dressed like this spoke in English and offered to take our photographs. We were only too happy to oblige. We thanked him after he’d taken a few and he went on his way. We saw him again, sitting on the ghats with another man. When he saw us, he struck up a conversation. The man (I don’t remember his name) pulled out his visiting card from his sling bag (imagine a Sadhu with a visiting card) and gave it to each of us. It said, ‘CEO’ of some technology company in Bangalore, Engineer and Astrologer. I stifled a smile (who am I to judge?) but seriously, I couldn’t imagine what the employees were doing in a company whose CEO was living on the streets of Varanasi. Anyway, he also said that he was from Kerala and that his mother had no idea that he had decided to become an ascetic. Somehow, I didn’t buy his story – he seemed more like someone who was running away from responsibility and whiling away his time in Benaras.

There is a sect of sadhus called ‘Aghori’ sadhus who smear their bodies with ashes from the cremation ground and carry a human skull as a begging bowl! I’m not sure if the above sadhu qualifies but I found him sitting on the ghat (steps leading to the river), in front of a temple, in meditation, and decided to click his picture. There is another sect called the ‘Naga’ sadhus or naked ascetics. They live in caves, in places far from public view, and they come out every twelve years for the Kumbh Mela (the world’s largest gathering of religious pilgrims), held in one of four places in India – Haridwar, Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain.

This one has all the makings of a sadhu – a hardened face with an unkempt beard (proves the hard life), a saffron robe, beads around his neck, a staff (you can see it beside him) and a kamandalu (water pot) – the brass pot he has his one hand on.

This one looks like a mendicant in his black attire, matted hair, and dirty socks. He is homeless (as a Sadhu should be), lives on alms (you can see his bed, his lunch box -someone kind folk probably gives him food) and it does appear that all his possessions are in this one photograph. He had a pet monkey that at times was seen tied to a rope and at other times slept like a cat on his lap. I’m not sure where the monkey was when I took this picture. However, I don’t think he is a sadhu. I may be wrong. the truth is he never asked us for a penny even when we clicked his photograph. He just stared into the camera.

And, as for the below, I have no idea what he is but, he was in the market, with his face and body smeared with ash, flowers on his head and around his neck and wrist. Well, he made for an interesting subject.

I don’t know if you noticed but all these sadhus (real or not) are not camera-shy. With so many people photographing them every day, they are used to the attention. And by attention, I mean ‘International attention.’

With him, comes an end to this Wednesday’s post. I hope you enjoyed seeing the pictures.

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