Are they doing a service, or a disservice to society? Are they fulfilling an important role or are they freeloaders?
‘I see dead people’
If M.Knight Shyamalan had made The Sixth Sense in India, the dead people could well refer to Sadhus or Sadhavis!
Here is one way to look at the question of perception.
A Sadhu is born when a man or a woman sets off in pursuit of Moksha – burning the effect of karma and eventually seeking freedom from the cycle of life and death – a daunting task. Before embarking on this journey, they give up everything – be it material possessions, social status (such as caste), relationships (including parents) and even their identities (names) to become legally dead. The government of India recently announced support to allow the Sadhus to refer to their respective gurus as parents while applying for a passport ().
Sadhus serve the society by:
- Preserving Heritage: They continue an age old practice of seeking Moksha and contribute to the unique cultural landscape of India
- Sharing Knowledge: They have been sharing knowledge and wisdom long before written word came in vogue. For instance, though not all Sadhus may be yogis, the ones who do practice it, retain and pass on the knowledge. Similarly, some may work to demystify the Hindu body of knowledge and help people deepen their understanding of life.
- Economy: Contribute to the economy by congregating at Kumbh Melas. These are fast becoming major tourist attractions, propelling related business activities of restaurants, guesthouses, etc.
Their social acceptance does lure imposters, who, using a mix of authority (Sadhus are somewhat feared for their ability to ‘curse’), special powers, etc., may entertain or even dupe people. Obviously, the imposters get widespread coverage by news agencies.
While the negative press may put the lens of suspicion on all Sadhus; being at less than 1 per cent of the overall population and living on the fringes of society, it’s unlikely that they would get generalized as freeloaders (for using public transport, etc.) or face a popular backlash. Perhaps people continue to perceive the positive contribution of Sadhus and Sadhavis to be higher than the nuisance or scandals by the imposters.
On the lighter side, Sadhus:
- ‘Invented’ the dreadlocks (Sorry, Bob!)
- Smoke the ‘happy plant’ and are the source of weed for many
- Serve as ‘inspiration’ to many photographers. I have to agree that the Sadhu featured looks ‘cool’.
Hinduism is not considered a ‘religion’ in the same sense as Christianity or Islam. Its many codes are not upheld / governed by a central body but by its practitioners. Sadhus and Sadhavis play their part in preserving a part of this ‘way of life’.
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