"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell











PRABUDDHA BHARATAGlimpses of Holy Lifes| The Sadhu of Rishikesh  



     Glimpses of Holy Lives




The Sadhu of Rishikesh



There is a sadhu in Rishikesh who gets up early in the morning and stands near a great waterfall. He looks at it the whole day and says to God: Ah, you have done well! Well done! How amazing! He doesnt practise any other form of japa or austerity. At night he returns to his hut.

- Sri Ramakrishna


     Rishikesh and its environs in the Himalayan foothills are the traditional habitat of sadhus. Countless sadhus have lived there practising varied austerities and spiritual disciplines according to their temperament and spiritual orientation.


     Today Rishikesh is a well-connected bustling town, housing the administrative offices of the district headquarters, and boasting of most basic urban amenities. But when Mahendranath Datta first went there in 1894 he had to walk through dense forest infested with tigers and wild elephants. Rishikesh itself was no better than a jungle with just the odd temple or two, a couple of dharmashalas, and no shops. There were, of course, several sadhus, living in small grass huts. A big pipal tree by the fast-flowing Ganga acted as a natural rendezvous for sadhus where they gathered for their frugal lunch distributed by the almshouse of Kali Kamliwala. There were many stones of varied shapes lying around and one had only to pick one up, wash it in water and use it as a plate. After meals the sadhus would continue with their personal routines - some read the Gita, others immersed themselves in contemplation.



     Humbler than a Blade of Grass



     One morning, when it was time to collect alms, Mahendranath was struck by the appearance of an elderly sadhu making his way to the almshouse. He appeared to be in his eighties and was fairly well built. But what was remarkable was the great respect that his very presence elicited from the other sadhus. Making way for him, they stood motionless, waiting for him to collect his rotis first before they took their turn. Mahendranaths curiosity was fuelled and he soon found his way to the sadhus hut, which was not far from Kali Kamliwalas almshouse.


     The hut itself presented a strange sight. It comprised all of four wooden sticks at the corners with some creepers stretched overhead - a semblance of an awning. The floor was strewn with pebbles and stones amidst which sat the sadhu, clad only in a kaupina of birch leaves. The hut had a serene quietness and a peaceful, meditative air. As Mahendranth approached the sadhu, he was greeted with a kindness that was touching: Ayiye, Guru Maharaj; Welcome, Master. Moved by this expression of love Mahendranath proceeded to touch the sadhus feet, but the latter made it known, without saying as much, that he did not like such things.


     Mahendranath settled down on a stone by the sadhus side. I have not been able to practise as much austerity as did my guru, said the sadhu, and then fell silent. He was sitting on his heels, his knees tucked below his chin, his hands joined together in salutation, and with a distant look in his eyes. A long time passed and not another word was exchanged. The sharp pebbles under Mahendranaths feet hurt and his legs began to ache. So he finally got up and withdrew from the hut, leaving the sadhu alone in his reverie.


     But Mahendranth was feeling an irresistible attraction. He now began visiting the sadhu whenever he found time - morning, afternoon or evening. The sadhu spoke but one sentence, Ayiye, Guru Maharaj. No other word was exchanged. He was like a living statue, motionless; and Mahendranath too would sit quietly in his presence. He was about twenty-five years old, restless and fidgety by nature, but in the sadhus presence all restlessness vanished. He would start on his visit planning to ask one question or another, but once in the sadhus presence all questions would simply dissolve. The sadhus perpetual meditative mood was infectious and Mahendranaths mind would effortlessly quieten down in his presence. He did not make any attempt at japa or meditation, nor did he ask the sadhu for any help, but the sadhus very presence induced in him a meditative state of mind. It was as if a power was emanating out of him engulfing anyone who happened to be in his presence.


     The old sadhus face radiated an ethereal peace and tranquil joy. He would always be found squatting, be it day or night, his half-closed eyes bearing the inward gaze of the mother bird sitting on her eggs that Sri Ramakrishna described as the mark of a yogi. The greeting, Ayiye Guru Maharaj, was reserved not for men alone. A monkey or a dog or a squirrel stealing into his presence would be greeted with the same words. Even the fall of a leaf would at times evoke the same response. However, when he was more indrawn, the sadhu would hardly be conscious of his surroundings. Squirrels would then run all over his body and he would not know it.



     Forbearing as the Tree



     Even at other times, the sadhu seemed to be scarcely aware of his body. Sometimes he would be found strolling barefoot on the hot sands of the riverbank in the burning afternoon sun, when one would think twice before venturing out.


     Once a couple of young troublemakers, who had arrived from the plains dressed as sadhus, decided to test the sadhus nonchalance. They collected some leaves of the poisonous wild hemp plant, rolled them into a ball, and having fried it with some chillies offered it to the sadhu at his lunch. The sadhu cast his benign glance first at the youngsters, then at the deadly fry. Then he calmly ate it along with his rotis! After taking his usual sip from the Ganga, he retired to his squat as if nothing had happened.


     The sadhus deportment reminded Mahendranath of the legendary Rishabhadeva, the first of the twenty-four Jaina tirthankaras and the father of Bharata, from whom India derives its name. Of royal birth and possessed of auspicious qualities, Rishabha mastered the Vedas at a young age. He then married Indras daughter Jayanti, led the life of an ideal householder - helpful, peaceful, unattached and beneficent, and ruled according to dharma - his rule being marked by justice, propriety and prosperity. Yet Rishabha was a free soul. He was pure in heart and had realized his oneness with Brahman. When his son Bharata came of age, Rishabha relinquished the throne and assumed the life of a wandering avadhuta. He was honoured in some places and abused in others, but his equanimity was never disturbed. He had attained yogic powers but paid no heed to them. He communicated with none and would therefore often be taken as deaf, dumb, drunk, or mad. On occasions he would take to ajagara vritti, remaining immobile in one place, as if inert, for days together. Having realized oneness with God, he was free of attachment to the body. His body was simply working out the momentum of karma till it burnt itself out in a forest fire at the foothills of the Kutakadri.


     The legacy of Rishabhadeva and the sadhu of Rishikesh is alive to this day. One can still meet in the vicinity of Rishikesh sadhus who, when asked their name, are likely to answer: Just as flowing rivers disappear into the sea, losing their names and forms, even so the wise man, freed from name and form, attains to the self-effulgent Purusha, who is higher than the high.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015









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