The Sadu, who is dressed in the Hindu color of saffron was wondering the streets of Varanasi when I met him. Varanasi is considered the oldest continuously inhabited city, 9000 years old) on earth by the Hindus. With archaeologists dating it in the top 10 oldest cities. Varanasi is filled with Sadus, as it is considered the holiest of Hindu cities.
Sadus are wandering Hindu holy men. When we were there in 2013, the Sadus were very present on the ghats or steps leading from the city to the sacred river Ganga ( Ganges ). Many tourists never visit Varanasi as it has an intensity that is equal to no other city we visited in India. The city is trying to maintain the spiritual atmosphere of the place and make it more welcoming to visitors from other cultures by prohibiting Sadus and the begging widows off the ghats. In India today, there are 4-5 million Sadus who live on the fringe of society to engage in personal extreme asceticism. . . praying, chanting, and meditation. Poverty and hunger are always present to them as they rely on donations from the lay Hindus or tourists. The Sadu told me that Hindus tend to walk on by as they are used to the constant presence of Sadus. There are women Sadus in some sects and all are trying to achieve Moksha (one-ness with god) and the end of the reincarnation cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
Next in the picture would be me. . . .the students called it “Anne being Anne”. This was my talking to strangers, making friends and wearing the lopsided hat which they decided represented my personality! Hmmm. . . I never asked for clarification!
The man on the right. . . .I had met on the ghats and walked and talked with him quite a bit. Since my Hindi is pretty non-existent, we were speaking English, which is the second national language in India. Only people who are educated speak English, but many can understand English spoken about specific topics which affect or concern them. He told me his story that he had not always been a beggar on the streets but a working man who provided for his wife and three sons. Then he was unfortunate to be involved in a horrible accident. Then he removed the cloak from his arm.
Oh, I wish I had a picture of the mangled arm which had been broken somehow in his work. But there was no workman’s comp, or medical care and it had “heal” with his elbow pushed in towards his body and his fingers grotesquely twisted. He said it healed as it was broken. Now he begs for the bare necessities of food on the streets. He didn’t seem bitter or angry, just glad to have someone listen. My husband was around and aware that this dear man helped me across the street( followers know I was terrified of the Indian traffic while crossing the craziness of the streets.)
There is also a Buddhist pilgrimage site only 6 miles from Varanasi, Sarnath. This is one of the four sites for pilgrimages for Buddhists. The giant stupa marks the spot where Buddha delivered his first teaching after he obtained enlightenment.
Varanasi, a chapter from the Hindu Vadas , a city of history, poverty, prayer, chanting, medication, begging, ancient history, death, hope, life. . . . . Our favorite place in all of India. We would love to return yet again to this intense and captivating city. This time for at least a week to discover more of the winding, dark streets and in-search of more of the heart of Varanasi.
This Is Incredible India!
images from Google public domain