A Sadhu by the River

Features Issue 99 Jul, 2010
Text by Eliz Manandhar / Photo: ECS Media

Tell us your story, baba. The paths you have trodden on your darkened bare feet. The pains you have suffered on your journeys and the tears you have shed - of sorrow, of elation and of excess cannabis consumption. Do you search for God in your hallucinations or does God himself reach down from his majestic chariot and speak to you? Does he discuss with you the sufferings of Mankind? Is he responsible for your fragile and pitiable state? Does he give you the power to step into a world of mystery, surreal and devoid even of the void? Do you have the answers to these questions?

You awake in the morning haunted by dreams of Vishnu, dreams of Shiva, dreams that linger. A crowd of your friends surround you as you wash your face with holy water because the water was touched and drunk by the gods the other night when you met and spoke to Him in your subconscious mind. You tie yourself in miraculous postures with your legs around your shoulders, head tilted upwards, gazing at the early morning sun. You see beauty in everything. You mumble and pray - for yourself, for Mankind and for Shiva to join you on earth, on your floor rug, shortly. You clean the insides of your massive chillum (smoking pipe) with your safi, cleaning the rim stuck with stubborn wastes of the cannabis you smoked the other night. And then, along with your friends, you fill it up once again with a stash of the “holy herb” acquired from far away.

You sit in a befitting posture, surrounded by those of like mind who do the same, and then hail the magical words, “Bom bhole” and inhale a gargantuan portion of smoke from the holy herb after it is lit. This takes you away to familiar places, to the skies, to the oceans, to the gods and the heavens. And you meet Shiva. You see him smiling at you. You speak to him in a voice that echoes across mountains and you find solace in him because he is what you have devoted a lifetime to. “Bom bhole,” you shout out aloud as the chillum completes the circle of your friends and comes back to you. You aren’t distracted by the tourists watching and taking photographs of you because you are above them, above all human beings at this euphoric and blissful stage… because you are with the gods in the heavens.

The normal mortal is incapable of your state of mind. The normal mortal is... normal. You are not. You are full of bliss. Beside you flows the filthy and polluted Bagmati River, but all you can hear is the soothing sound of flowing water. Ugliness transforms to beauty - transcendental beauty. Pain and sufferings transform to pleasure and relief. The chillum completes another round and there is another shout of “Bom bhole” before you fill your lungs with yet another massive portion of the herb.

Stars dazzle before you now. They are very close to you, but you do not try to count or catch them as you know very well that they exist only in your mind. But poison-blue Shiva is real, with his trishul, his hair twisted to a bun at the epicenter of his head with the holy Ganges water welling up from it, his neck and arms garlanded with serpents, the neck revealing his nilkanth, dark blue in color because of the poison he consumed to save Mankind from the clutches of evil, his loincloth made of tiger-hide, his tri-netra (those three eyes with one centered on the forehead), gazing at you and his shankha (conch) and rudraksha beads festooning his hands pointing at you.

You converse with him, the kind of conversation you’ve been having for a long, long time about the state of Mankind and of Nature, about life and about death. Shiva, the alchemist, concocts imaginary potions to grant you the elixir of life. Only after Shiva drifts back to his abode on Mount Kailash do you proceed to go and boil tea. You thirst because of the amount of smoke you have inhaled. You thirst because you are dehydrated. You thirst also for more knowledge about the world.

Lunch for you is roots, yam, and potatoes served on a steel plate washed in the filthy river. But this doesn’t affect your health. You are resistant to all kinds of diseases. Is it the herbs? Or is it Shiva’s gift of immunity? The yam and potatoes more than satisfy your hunger. Satisfaction is easy because you thrive on the minimals of the world. Satisfaction is easy for you because you are content while the rest of mankind still seeks its meaning. Satisfaction is easy for you for you are wise.

People come to offer you food and other material stuff. A foreigner, who’s been visiting you for the past few days, brings you batteries for your portable radio. Although you find it very difficult to communicate with him, some of the messages get through at times. He carries a huge camera with accessories. He’s doing a story on you. He may be thinking you do not know, but, unbeknownst to him, you do.

It makes you sad; this whole camaraderie of offerings and blessings that are exchanged. But, you’re very used to it. This foreigner from France requests you to pose for his camera in different intricate positions. There’s only so much that you actually know and do, but he wants you to do the impossible. He shows you a photograph of another sadhu in an incredible posture; hands and feet and head and torso all knotted up to form a ball. It looks audacious, not to mention grotesque. You shake your head in disapproval trying to convey to him that you cannot do it.

“Vai cyanz you dyu eet when zis syadhyu cyan. You tell me you are a tryu syadhyu end yet you kennot dyu eet. Cyom on, off course you cyan, Dyu it fyur me.”

You don’t understand, but someone nearby translates for you. You get the message and feel dishonored. This has happened before, but this person seems incredibly arrogant and through your translator, you tell him that you will not do it. The Frenchman mutters something seemingly obscene, gathers his equipment, and shaking his head in annoyance, leaves.

The time to meditate approaches and you join your colleagues in the lengthy courtyard once more. You require your herbs for meditation since the effects of the previous herbs no longer linger. So, you and your friends start another round. And you repeat the ritual - cleaning the chillum, filling it with the herb, reciting the magic words, lighting the pipe, and once again you are in a trance… in the land of sublime beauty and love. Once again you see your God and talk to him and meditate.

Acquiring a stiff posture, with your frail torso at a 90-degree angle and arms rested upon your thighs, you meditate. You focus on the pains and sorrows of the world and then ask of the Lord Almighty to take these unwanted sufferings away and fill the void with peace, love, wisdom and understanding.

You pray not only for Mankind but for all that have life: the animals and insects, the trees, the lakes, rivers, seas and all that is Nature.

Chants are mumbled in your ethereal condition, and people gather around you to share your blessings with them. Of course, most of these people revere you, but there are some who laugh and mock you. But you are indifferent to their ridicule and their teasing. They call you names, but you don’t mind. These people are but puppets of the very society you renounced to follow this path.

Later, while walking around for alms to meet your basic needs, you are shunned. They call you a “fake” sadhu. Some fear that you will cast a spell on them if they do not offer you some money or food. And there are others who think the very sight of you is unholy, a curse, a day gone bad. But that does not deter you from repeating your “Bom bhole” chant for the good of Mankind. With the paltry alms that you receive, you buy food: tea-leaves, milk, sugar, yam and potatoes. You head back to your place beside the river where, after another salute to the gods, you cook the potatoes and the yam and eat them sumptuously and drift away into thin air in your sleep to fly with the gods. And there, Shiva invites you to live with him in Heaven.

And as the night gives way to a new day, your journey begins anew.