|Shaivas, the followers of Shiva|
Shiva is the god of Destruction as well as Creation, which in a perpetual cyclical movement follow one another.
With half-closed eyes he is immersed in meditation, in divine bliss.
The Ganges springs from his long hair, his jata, as a fountain, splashing in the Himalayan mountains in the distance.
The crescent -- the new moon, 'Shiva's moon' -- on his forehead, the cobra around his neck, the white bull Nandi, the river Ganges, and the full moon form a symbolic cluster which indicates Shiva's function as a fertility deity, a moon god.
On his forehead are three horizontal lines, painted with ashes, representing the three main gods, the three 'worlds', etc. Around his neck is a garland of 108 beads, the 108 elements of material creation, and in his hand a rosary of 50 beads, the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet.
The two large rings through his ears are indicative of his extra-sensory perception.
He is seated on a tiger skin, a symbol of power, showing his mastery over the animal world.
|Shiva is often shown sitting in the cremation ground (shmashana), which symbolizes the correct attitude of a yogi to life. Shmashana is the end of the pysical phase of life. This is a prerequisite for every new creation.|
In appearance sadhus try to resemble the gods as they are known through ancient myths and popular legends, especially Shiva; for sadhus he is the Master of Yogis.
Following his example, quite a few sadhus walk about nČked, symbolising their renunciation of the world of mortals, and rub their body with ashes of their holy fires, symbolic of death and rebirth.
Many sadhus wear extremely long hair (jata), again in emulation of Lord Shiva, whose long strands of hair are regarded as the 'seat' of his supernatural powers.
|Naga babas Hari Giri and Ramnath Giri|
|The Naga babas|
|One large and prominent Shaiva sect consists of the 'warrior ascetics', or Nagas (the 'nČked'), who have existed since the prehistoric past.
|Though sadhus in general can de characterized as peace-loving, the Nagas used to be extremely militant, fighting with rivalling sects, the Muslims and later even the British.
They were excellent fighters for they had no fear of death.
Traces of this 'macho' attitude are still discernible today. The Naga sect is subdivided into Akharas, i.e. 'regiments', like an army.
Their bellicose past is visible in their display of weaponry -- sticks, spears, swords and especially the trident -- but nowadays these have a mostly symbolic function.
Among the Nagas -- as this name would lead us to expect -- there are still many sadhus who walk about nČked.
In other respects as well they represent the ideal image of the sadhu as it was created thousands of years ago.
|High up in the icy Himalayas, but nČked all the same, Bhola Giri Naga baba blows the serpentine horn, called nagphani, that is, 'cobra-hood', producing one piercing note. This instrument is related to the cobra (naga), the intimate companion of Lord Shiva, always coiled around his neck.|
|The Gorakhnathis are commonly referred to as Yogis or Jogis.
Although in outlook very similar to the sannyasis, the Jogis do not follow the Vedantic teachings of Shankara, but adhere to the Tantric way taught by their Guru-founder Gorakhnath. Still, they are devotees of Shiva, albeit in his manifestation as Bhairava, and they worship Hanuman and Dattatreya.
Gorakhnath, being an incarnation of Shiva, is worshipped as a deity by the Jogis, and has a number of temples dedicated to him. The Jogis are therefore often designated as 'Gorakhnathis', or more simply 'Nath babas'.
|Pagal Mauni Baba belongs to the Aghori section of the Gorakhnathis. As his name reveals, this baba is 'mad, divinely intoxicated' (pagal) and 'non-speaking' (mauni).|
|Some Gorakhnathis are known as Kanphata. This names refers to the huge earrings which are one of their distinctive marks, and to their unique practice of having the cartilage of their ears split for the insertion of the earrings.
It is said that the practice of splitting the ears originated with Gorakhnath and that the designation Kanphata (litt. split-eared) was a term of disrespect applied to these Yogis by Musalmans.
In the initiation ceremony, a special Guru splits the central hollows of both ears with a two-edged Bhairavi knife. The slits are plugged with nim-wood sticks ; and after the wounds have healed, large rings (mudra) are inserted. These are a symbol of the Yogis faith. Some explain that in splitting the ear a nari (mystic channel) in the cartilage is cut, thus assisting in the acquirement of yogic power. The Yogi, wearing the mudra, becomes immortal.
|The major sect of Udasin ascetics was originally not Shaiva -- nor even Hindu -- but belonged to the Sikh religion. It was founded in the sixteenth century by a son of Guru Nanak -- himself the founder of Sikhism -- called Shrichandra.
The Udasin are therefore also known as Nanakputras, the 'sons of Nanak', and they revere the Grantha Saheb, the sacred book of the Sikhs.
They were excommunicated by the successor of Guru Nanak and gradually turned to Hinduism.
|A quiet morning scene around the dhuni of Udasin Babas, who have gathered for the annual celebration of Shivaratri.|
|The Udasin worship panchayatana, a combination of five deities, namely Shiva, Vishnu, the Sun, goddess Durga, and Ganesh.
Moreover they worship their founder-Guru Shrichandra.
Their philosophy is basically the monistic Vedanta as set forth by Shankara, and in other respects as well they closely resemble the Shaiva sannyasis.
Like all Shaiva sannyasis, the Udasin usually wear red or black cloth, apply ashes, have long hair in jata, and so on, but differ in details such as their woollen knitted caps and a small silver crescent ring in the right ear.
Furthermore, whenever they had to choose sides in fights with rivalling sects, they were on the side of the Shaivas.
|Vital Das, an Udasin baba, his body covered with ash.|
|Holiness cannot only be macho, but even 'crazy', god-possessed, as it is shown by the members of a rather obscure and small sect, the Aghoris.
They emulate the most extreme characteristics of Lord Shiva as the Conqueror of Death: his favourite haunt is the cremation-grounds; he bathes in cremation-ashes; he wears a garland of skulls and bones; he keeps spirits and ghosts for company; he is continuously intoxicated; and he acts like a madman.
The Aghoris willingly transgress all ascetic (and Hindu) taboos, convinced as they are that by 'reversing all values' they will speed up enlightenment.
While all sadhus are supposed to be vegetarian and teetotallers (like all ordinary Hindus for that matter), Aghoris eat meat and drink alcohol.
Even more horrid habits are attributed to Aghoris: they eat the putrid flesh of corpses; they eat excrement and drink urine, even of a dog; they have ritual intercourse with menstruating prostitutes on the cremation-grounds, where they usually hang out; and they meditate while sitting on a corpse.
It is questionable whether all this is regularly done, but it seems quite certain that at least occasionally, and then in a ritual context, as a kind of 'eucharist', these cannibalistic and other 'inhuman' acts are still taking place.Aghoris preferably live on cremationgrounds and surround themselves with artifacts of death, like human skulls out of which they drink and with which they perform magical rituals.
Nonetheless, the Aghoris represent a tradition that is thousands of years old, and there have been times that the sect was quite numerous.
|Drinking out of a human skull is only one of the striking peculiarities that differentiates Gauri Shankar Mishra from the average ascetic. He drinks liquor (forbidden to caste Hindus and certainly ascetics), eats the flesh of dead animals found in the street and abuses people with foul obscenities.|
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