Shaila’s Weblog

Sadhus and Yogis of India

Posted on: February 13, 2008

After I have gone through the demise of great spiritual guru – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi… I got curious about yogis and sadhu’s from India.


I came across a book of Dolf Hartsuiker, titled “Sadhus, Holy Men of India”.
Spiritual adventurers, ascetic warriors, devout mystics, occult rebels or philosophic monks,the sadhus are revered by Hindus as representatives of the gods,sometimes even worshipped as gods themselves.

Holiness is still common in India. In most Hindu households, shops and businesses are altars and shrines, and the day is routinely started with the worship of gods and gurus. Many mountains, rivers, stones and trees are sacred. Dozens of cities are holy and, of course, the millions of temples and idols.

Quite a few animals are holy — the cow, of course, but also the bull, the monkey, the elephant, the peacock, the snake, the rat….So it may come as no surprise that people can be holy too, though they have to become holy.

The Indian concept of holiness is quite different from that in the West. It is not necessarily (though often) associated with the “good.”

Sadhus belong to many different sects or orders.These fall broadly speaking into two main groups:

The Shaivas: those who follow Shiva in one way or another;

The Vaishnavas: those who worship Vishnu in one of his incarnations, notably Rama or Krishna.

The allegiance of sadhus can be recognised by differences in the marks on their forehead, and the colour of their clothes. In the past, there have been intense rivalries between the various sects, mirroring the rivalry of Shiva and Vishnu for the supreme position in the Hindu pantheon, which sometimes even lead to battle. But in essence all sadhus have the same roots.

Most sects are rather moderate in their practices, but some can be quite extreme.

Sadhvis: female sadhus, About ten percent of sadhus are female, called sadhvis, and they are to be found in most sadhus sects.

Austerities by Shaivas: The sadhus radically renounce ‘the world’ in order to focus entirely on the Higher Reality beyond. They abstain from se+, cut all family ties, have no possessions, no house, wear little or no clothing and eat little and simple food.

Austerities by Vaishnavas: For an ordinary human being these ‘basic’ self-abnegations are already hard to comprehend. But almost unimaginable are the extreme austerities — even self-mortifications — by which a number of sadhus intend to speed up their enlightenment.

Kumbha Mela: Kumbha Melas are undoubtedly the most important gatherings in the lives of sadhus. They are held in Allahabad, Ujjain, Hardwar and Nasik, in twelve year cycles, alternating in such a way that about every three years a Kumbha Mela takes place.

Ever since the ‘sixties’, with an upsurge of interest in the ‘mystic East’ mirroring a growing discontent with the ‘materialistic West’, scores of young Westerners went to India searching for the meaning of life and often finding a guru.
Many became disciples of famous, international gurus such as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Bhagwan Rajneesh, and Saï Baba, but others chose the more individualistic path of the sadhu and committed themselves to the hardships of the ascetic life.


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February 2008
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