Getting blessed by a Naga Sadhu
A while back I was online looking for inspiration for an article on rituals. As I glanced through Google Images, something caught my eye and practically dragged me in…
It was a man.
A naked man. With long furry dreadlocks, smeared in white paint, screaming and running ferociously through the Ganges river with a trident in hand.
That moment… That’s when I knew I had to go to India.
The man in the picture was a naga sadhu attending the Kumbh Mela festival. Sadhus are the holy men of India, and the most fascinating and radical of them are called naga sadhus. These sadhus give up all possessions including their clothes to live in forests and secluded caves. They spend their days smoking marijuana and they cover their bodies with ashes.
Sadhus are greatly respected for their holiness, but also widely feared for their curses.
Read next: How to experience the Kumbh Mela
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About a month later, I found myself sitting in lotus position eating vegan dal from a banana leaf. I was in an ashram at the Kumbh Mela and we were about to head out for the day.
We’d been chatting to a fellow traveler, Matt, who offered to show us around the camp. He had been there for some time so he knew where to go and who to talk with. He mentioned that he knew a sadhu at the camp and that he would gladly show us to him.
HEADING TO THE SADHU CAMP
The sadhu camp was in sector 4, which was close to the Sangam, but still several kilometres from our camp in sector 6. On the way there, we stopped to buy bananas and milk so we wouldn’t come empty-handed.
As we walked through the camp, naked men dominated the streets and watched us from within their vivid tents. They followed us with their eyes. Some of them yelled and summoned us to their dens. The closer we got, the louder my heart pounded.
I kept looking straight ahead until Matt pointed at an open tent and a naga sadhu sitting in the shades.
“This is it,” he said.
As soon as the sadhu saw us, he lighted up in a smile and waved at us to enter his tent. He seemed friendly. Genuinely happy to see us, as if he knew we were coming. He promptly got up and found a few blankets to hang up so we wouldn’t get the sun in our eyes. You can see him choring around in the background in the picture below.
Read next: What to expect from a Ganga Aarti
After making sure that we were comfortable, he motioned for us to come closer in order to receive a blessing. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think of it. I’m not a Hindu and I normally don’t get blessed by others than protestant priests, but there was something about this man. I got up and went over to him. He smiled, bowed his head and then painted an ash dot in my forehead.
That was it.
After the blessings, he got up and served us chai.
Our new friend was from Nepal where he lived in the mountains. He didn’t speak English so we communicated through sign language and sounds. He was very eager to know where we came from so I would demonstrate “The cold North” with shivers and brrr-sounds, and he seemed to know where Europe was.
While asking us how we liked the Kumbh Mela, something strange happened.
Another sadhu came to join us, and for some reason he seemed to irritate the other sadhus. It got to a point where they yelled at him, raised their arms in anger to get him to leave. Our naga friend tried to explain what had happened and I think it had something to do with the sadhu begging. It’s the sadhu sitting across from me.
Read next: Things to do in Varanasi
MARIJUANA AND PENIS YOGA
During our visit we were offered marijuana as well. Sadhus smoke this a lot because it is believed to be a gateway to Nirvana. Before we left, the naga sadhu offered to perform a special kind of yoga called penis yoga. It looked rather painful, but he explained to us that it didn’t hurt.
The aim of penis yoga is to mortify the flesh because it is seen as a obsticle in achieving Nirvana. Some sadhus attach a heavy weight which they drag around until the power of muscles and nerves is completely destroyed. This is both a form of penance and yoga; a way for them to not be led astray.
After the performance we said goodbye to our new friend and went back to the ashram. I was quiet all the way back, thinking about what I’d seen and experienced. I had a great week at the Kumbh Mela, but meeting this naga sadhu and getting a glimpse into his world was the ultimate highlight of the entire trip.
I was simply fascinated to my core.
Sadhus live alone most of the time without human interaction, so being in a crowded place like Kumbh Mela is a huge transition. During a prior Kumbh, there had been reports of rapes and attacks on tourists and so the Indian Government talked about closing the sadhu camp for visitors.
I would say that it is safe to visit the sadhus, but it is imperative to stay alert. Be careful when offered something to drink and eat, and do not sleep at the camp, which I know some travelers do.
More posts from India you might like
- Varanasi (Banares) India – I see dead people
- I got scammed in India (and how you can avoid it)
- Why you should visit an ashram in India
- Jaipur itinerary: 10 things to do in Jaipur for 2 days
- Ranthambore tiger safari – is it worth going?
- How to plan an unforgettable camel safari in Pushkar
- 10 fun places to visit in Delhi in one day
- 10 tips for an amazing Taj Mahal visit
- Sarnath temple: An important Buddhist pilgrimage site
- Why you should do a Varanasi boat ride
- Maha Kumbh Mela – Joining 110 Million People at the world’s largest festival
A reportagem é muito interessante, parabéns por ter mostrado sadhus em atividade.
Hare Mahadeva Lord Shiva ️ Thank You for a decolonized extremely informative article I ma grateful ️️️️ Ohm Namo Shivaya
I’ve personally never heard anything about Sadhus, it’s so fascinating to learn about other cultures and why they decide to live the way they do. Very interesting experience Miriam!
It really was, Franca and it touched me deeply. Sadhus are truly fascinating people and especially the naga sadhus. They have such a simple approach to life.
He must have a lot of strength in his penis, probably more than a normal man has in his arms.
That’s a great story, Miriam! We haven’t been to India yet but it certainly sounds like a fascinating country!
You are a skilful photographer too and if you like photography, you might be interested in our weekly Travel Photography Competition. Every week we publish three winning photos with a photographer’s bio and a link to their website.
I will send you the info via Twitter or you might follow the link in your CommentLuv. Take care and hope to stay in touch!
Thanks so much for the kind words! I will take a look at your weekly competition – I’m definitely intrigued!
I love this story! I have been dying to go to India and I’m working on fitting it into my travel plans between 2015 and 2016. I can’t get over the penis yoga… just… ouch. *sour face. Stories like this are my favorite part of traveling.
Me neither. It takes serious dedication to do something like that to yourself! I hope you get to visit India – it’s such a fascinating country.
If u r really interesting to know more about truth about spirituality ,be in touch I may help if u want !in india
hey Miriam, m so happy after your feedback. Many ppl think that these are dangerous ppl, not to tok or not to see them.
They are gem of a person. Come again. There is lot more to see here.
I’m really glad to hear that, Jay! We can definitely learn a lot from the sadhu’s way of living. I’d love to revisit India and meet the sadhus of Nepal. Thanks for commenting!
Talk about a unique experience. I always wondered why the did the penis yoga. What a fascinating story, some great pictures too, if you don’t mind me asking what camera are you using? Regards
Thanks, Bex! I’m using a Canon 550D which I’m really happy with. I’d recommend a Canon anyday!
Thanks Miriam, I’m using a Fujifilm at the moment but I’m struggling to get the picture quality as crisp as I’d like. I’ll definitely have a look into Canon’s range! Many thanks!
In my experience, Canon is the best. If you’re not looking to buy a DSLR camera, the Canon s100 has received great reviews!
Wow, Miriam! What an amazing story!
I haven’t been to India yet, but I would love to. Hearing stories like this is a huge reason why I love to travel. Looking forward to more stories 🙂
Peace out and adventure on!
Thanks, Tara 🙂 India is definitely the place to go for crazy adventures. It’s the most insane and fascinating country!
For me, this is a case of “don’t knock it until you try it” but I think I just won’t knock it and call it a day.
And to think that people think it’s odd when we take pictures of monkeys on our roof (in Mexico). This one takes the cake for sure.
Thanks for sharing a glimpse into another way of life.
Journeys of The Zoo
Yes, it’s different alright! Although I wouldn’t want this lifestyle myself, I’m fascinated to hear and learn what it entails and feels like. Especially because it’s so different from ours.
Great blogs Miriam! Your attitude always comes shining through which is not to be judgemental. Just genuine interest and respect for people who are different from the mainstream. You have to be open minded to be like that which is perfect especially for India.
Thanks and keep it going .Pilu
What a lovely compliment, Pilu. I’m glad you like my blog 🙂
Living the dream, naked, alone in the woods, smoking weed all day! This is so neat, thanks for sharing!
Haha, you’ve got a point.
Please share the name of the sadhu you mentioned in the above blog – would like to meet him in person
Hi, I don’t know his name. He lives in a cave in Nepal, so I don’t know you will ever find him.