Being in Orange

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A sadhu is a person who has renounced worldly attachments – significantly to family, place, sensual pleasures including sex, and money.

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Despite the fact that this tradition is off the table – or perhaps under it, and despite modern India’s negligence of and diminished respect for sadhus generally in very recent times, it remains a tangible cornerstone of this complex, dynamic society. In the previous post called Gross National Happiness : Happy National Grossness other aspects of being in orange are covered.

Don’t doubt: it is certainly a hard life being a sadhu whether genuine or otherwise, despite appearances which at times lead you to believe they are on to a good thing.

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Sadhus who seem most genuine go on pilgrimages to other holy places as often as they can; this woman has just returned from somewhere in the far north, she has the feel to me of a genuine sadhu – the few women sadhus I meet seem so:

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Each time I pass at random this man has been sitting here like this, for days and days and days:

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One of the very few visible benefits of the recent FullMoon Phenomenon is that all street people with little effort receive somewhat of a living from pilgrims; groups of sadhus tend to make this charitable process easier for the devotees by setting up a tidy line of begging bowls accompanied by a welcome sound-track segment to draw attention in appreciation for generosity. Yesterday I saw a group of sadhus who appeared to be engaged in some sort of marketing enterprise:

They seem to be in discussion about stacks of brightly-coloured synthetic fly-whisks, which would seem of dubious profitability so perhaps they are presents for other sadhus.
They seem to be in discussion about stacks of brightly-coloured synthetic fly-whisks, which would seem of dubious profitability so perhaps they are presents for other sadhus.

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Sadhus also fare better sometimes when they group together as custodians of shrines; the group who live here have fared well enough to protect themselves from the monsoon with corrugated iron, like the rural middle-classes:

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This was probably a natural progression from the fact that the once exquisitely beautiful rustic shrine they care for – that of The Lord of Wilderness, Vediyappan, was subjected to a concrete makeover some years back:

The sadhus who live here have an eye for beauty.
The sadhus who live here have an eye for beauty and a feel for plants.

There are several centres where groups of sadhus have feathered nests together that appear harmonious, companionable, even beautiful. This for instance is like a shady lounge area adjacent to the gorgeous Mandapam of Umnamalai:

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Nearby here on the South bank of Nerimalai Thirthum, a young sadhu has established an excellent Infirmary where aged, sick, injured or otherwise infirm sadhus are housed and cared for by himself and two companions, also dedicated, compassionate, remarkable young renunciates.

The calm, caring atmosphere here is humbling to encounter.
The calm, caring atmosphere here is humbling to encounter.

For many years since he was very young, the young sadhu who initiated this service used to sweep the hill-round-roadway . . . this was his pleasure. His name is Ramanan. He’s what we call True-Blue. The other two young sadhus working with him seems also unusually authentic.

This is their small sweet herb garden overlooking the lovely old water tank now full of lilies.
This is their small sweet herb garden overlooking the lovely old water tank now full of lilies.

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This Convalescent Home for sadhus is purely a labour of love. Even though this is a famous Siva place – Lord Siva being the ultimate sadhu role-model, the local community doesn’t care at all about elderly sick sadhus and these young men carrying out selfless service are working as inconspicuously as is conceivable. They don’t put out any boards drawing attention to themselves or begging bowls at FullMoon. Although I frequently walk past here for years, I had no notion of their presence until visiting the website of a local NGO who claimed to support them – which they did only for the first six months, but since then this work is accomplished with minimal expense contributed entirely by individual donation. (If any readers would like to follow this up then please contact me and we will find a way.)

And it is very much needed in this community because being a sadhu is fine when one is young, robust, healthy, but if you are run over by a bullock cart, or suffer a stroke, or lose your sight or the use of your legs . . . . as you can imagine, life becomes excruciatingly difficult, so we can all be grateful for the loving generosity of these young men.

From time to time I notice a sadhu with an affinity with plants – as rings a bell, I think. Today this man was preparing an interesting chutney from young Tamarind leaves, Alovera skin and a local vine well known to be used by sadhus that is extremely nutritious:

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Almost all sadhus have the pleasure of bathing in one of the many exquisitely beautiful ancient hand-made, rock-lined water catchment tanks, either adjacent to the temple/shrine they care for, or not too far away by walking through the forest to tanks on or near the slopes of the sacred mountain. Water is still flowing down in streams into the tanks this morning; I found one of the most popular sadhu bathing places as peaceful as ever:

A solitary sadhu washes his cloths before bathing in Kattu Siva tank.
A solitary sadhu washes his cloths before bathing in Kattu Siva tank.

A short distance away is a pump provided for the reforestation work on the hill that provides sadhus and other wildlife with the purest water imaginable:

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It is the basic generosity of this culture that enables this safety-valve to persist into the selfishness of KaliYuga.

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