Notes from the Kumbh : From Friend to Sage
As we sat talking to a group of Sadhus, I was acutely aware of this awesome looking one - tall, white robes, beard touching his knees and wild Naga-like matted hair. He called me by my name. I turned to him in wonder and amusement. "God! One of those Sadhus, who are supposed to be divine and all!"
We were soon hugging each other. Meet Acharya Devendra Chaitanya, a former Delhi based journalist friend, who has taken to the life of a Sadhu. He now answers to the name his Guru has given him. Wandering in the foothills of Himalayas and other parts of India, long hours of meditation , study of Hindu scriptures, very little by way of income and celibacy has been his life for over a decade. "You seem happier as a Sadhu than as a journalist", I remark as we settle down in his personal tent at the Agni Akhara, the Sadhu sect of which he is a member. The floor is covered with straw. A blanket placed in the middle is his bed. Next to the pillow are his possessions - a small mirror that can be held in the palm, a comb, toothpaste, a stainless steel glass and a small handbag.
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Notes from the Kumbh
Friend to Sage
It did not take long to figure out how Sadhus like him have their basic needs attended to. We had had a reasonably good food served by volunteer devotees at the Akhara. One of them (who had come all the way from Assam, about 1,500 km away) went out and bought us tea from a roadside stall.
I was very dissatisfied as a journalist and felt that I needed to do something worthwhile", he said. His journey towards being a Sadhu began with a journalistic assignment: editing the biography of another Sadhu. The project triggered his interest in the Sadhus enough to become one himself. He is based in a Ashram near Gangotri, the source of the river Ganges in the Himalayas. His day normally begins at three am. After his meditation and wash, he bathes the deities and is absorbed in prayers till noon. He has the afternoons free to read, meet up with devotees or visit people. He retires a little after sunset. Chaitanya also talks about what is happening in the media. "So, any thoughts about coming back?" I ask him. His answer startles me: "Yes, I may team up with some people to launch a television programme or a channel...may be a website". So, how will he reconcile the life of a Sadhu with that of a man of the world? Does he want to come back to the world he left earlier?
His initiation into the Agni Akhara sect, he explained, embraced asceticism and a spiritual way of life. He wears white robes. Which, as he explained, means that he can return to the material world. He says Sadhus accept that change is the essence of life. He saw nothing wrong in using television as a medium to propagate religion and spirituality.
Taking advantage of the relaxed pace of conversation, I asked him whether he felt drawn to women, and if, many years down that road, he had achieved much by way of spiritual upliftment. And realise I had irritated him by such a line of questioning. He continues to be polite, but more Sadhu-like. "Raman, why do you talk to a Sadhu? Are you looking for some knowledge? Or do you wish to gossip? Gossiping with a Sadhu is a waste of your time and his." I was suitably rebuked.
I reckon for the time being, that's about as far I as I can get to understanding what it means to be a Sadhu.
~ This piece was first published on Channel 4's website on the Mahakumbh Mela in 2001 ~
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