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A sadhu (IAST: sādhu (male), sādhvī (female)), also spelled saddhu, is a religious ascetic, mendicant (monk) or any holy person in Hinduism
and Jainism
who has renounced the worldly life.[1][2][3] They are sometimes alternatively referred to as jogi,sannyasi or vairagi.[1] It literally means one who practises a ″sadhana″ or keenly follows a path of spiritual discipline.[4] Although the vast majority of sādhus are yogīs, not all yogīs are sādhus. The sādhu is solely dedicated to achieving mokṣa (liberation), the fourth and final aśrama (stage of life), through meditation and contemplation of Brahman. Sādhus often wear simple clothing, such saffron-coloured clothing in Hinduism, white or nothing in Jainism, symbolising their sannyāsa (renunciation of worldly possessions). A female mendicant in Hinduism
and Jainism
is often called a sadhvi, or in some texts as aryika.[2][3]


1 Etymology 2 Demographics and lifestyle 3 Sadhu

3.1 Hinduism 3.2 Jainism

4 Becoming a sadhu 5 Festive gatherings 6 See also 7 Notes 8 References 9 Further reading 10 External links


A sadhu in yoga position, reading a book in Varanasi

The term sadhu (Sanskrit: साधु) appears in Rigveda
and Atharvaveda
where it means "straight, right, leading straight to goal", according to Monier Monier-Williams.[5][note 1] In the Brahmanas layer of Vedic literature, the term connotes someone who is "well disposed, kind, willing, effective or efficient, peaceful, secure, good, virtuous, honourable, righteous, noble" depending on the context.[5] In the Hindu
Epics, the term implies someone who is a "saint, sage, seer, holy man, virtuous, chaste, honest or right".[5] The Sanskrit terms sādhu ("good man") and sādhvī ("good woman") refer to renouncers who have chosen to live lives apart from or on the edges of society to focus on their own spiritual practices.[6] The words come from the root sādh, which means "reach one's goal", "make straight", or "gain power over".[7] The same root is used in the word sādhanā, which means "spiritual practice". It literally means one who practises a ″sadhana″ or a path of spiritual discipline.[4] Demographics and lifestyle[edit] There are 4 to 5 million sadhus in India today and they are widely respected for their holiness.[8] It is also thought that the austere practices of the sadhus help to burn off their karma and that of the community at large. Thus seen as benefiting society, sadhus are supported by donations from many people. However, reverence of sadhus is by no means universal in India. For example, Nath
yogi sadhus have been viewed with a certain degree of suspicion particularly amongst the urban populations of India, but they have been revered and are popular in rural India.[9][10] There are naked (digambara, or "sky-clad") sadhus who wear their hair in thick dreadlocks called jata. Sadhus engage in a wide variety of religious practices. Some practice asceticism and solitary meditation, while others prefer group praying, chanting or meditating. They typically live a simple lifestyle, have very few or no possessions, survive by food and drinks from leftovers that they beg for or is donated by others. Many sadhus have rules for alms collection, and do not visit the same place twice on different days to avoid bothering the residents. They generally walk or travel over distant places, homeless, visiting temples and pilgrimage centers as a part of their spiritual practice.[11][12] Celibacy is common, but some sects experiment with consensual tantric sex as a part of their practice. Sex is viewed by them as a transcendence from a personal, intimate act to something impersonal and ascetic.[13] Sadhu

A female sadhvi with a Vishnu
mark on her forehead

Sadhus gathered at Assam's Kamakhya Temple for the Ambubachi Mela

Hinduism[edit] Shaiva sadhus are renunciates devoted to Shiva, and Vaishnava sadhus are renouncers devoted to Vishnu
(or his avatar like Rama
or Krishna). The Vaishnava sadhus are sometimes referred to as vairagis.[1] Less numerous are Shakta sadhus, who are devoted to Shakti. Within these general divisions are numerous sects and subsects, reflecting different lineages and philosophical schools and traditions (often referred to as "sampradayas"). Within the Shaiva sadhus are many subgroups. Most Shaiva sadhus wear a Tripundra
mark on their forehead, dress in saffron, red or orange color clothes, and live a monastic life. Some sadhus such as the Aghori
share the practices of ancient Kapalikas, where they beg with a skull, smeared their body with ashes from the cremation ground, and experiment with substances or practices that are generally abhorred by society.[14][15] The Dashanami Sampradaya
sadhus belong to the Smarta Tradition. They are said to have been formed by the philosopher and renunciant Adi Shankara, believed to have lived in the 8th century CE, though the full history of the sect's formation is not clear. Among them are the Naga subgroups, naked sadhu known for carrying weapons like tridents, swords, canes, and spears. Said to have once functioned as an armed order to protect Hindus from the Mughal rulers, they were involved in a number of military defence campaigns.[16][17] Generally in the ambit of non-violence at present, some sections are known to practice wrestling and martial arts. Their retreats are still called chhaavni or armed camps, and mock duels are still sometimes held between them. Female sadhus (sadhvis) exist in many sects. In many cases, the women that take to the life of renunciation are widows, and these types of sadhvis often live secluded lives in ascetic compounds. Sadhvis are sometimes regarded by some as manifestations or forms of the Goddess, or Devi, and are honoured as such. There have been a number of charismatic sadhvis that have risen to fame as religious teachers in contemporary India—e.g., Anandamayi Ma, Sarada Devi, Mata Amritanandamayi, and Karunamayi.[18] Jainism[edit] The Jain community is traditionally discussed in its texts with four terms: sadhu (monks), sadhvi or aryika (nuns), sravaka (laymen householders) and sravika (laywomen householders). As in Hinduism
and Buddhism, the Jain householders support the monastic community.[2] The sadhus and sadhvis are intertwined with the Jain lay society, perform Murtipuja (Jina idol worship) and lead festive rituals, and they are organized in a strongly hierarchical monastic structure.[19] They were a part of Dumont's theory on social stratification, but according to John Cort, the empirical data refutes Dumont thesis.[19] There are differences between the Digambara
and Svetambara sadhus and sadhvi traditions.[19] The Digambara
sadhus own no clothes as a part of their interpretation of Five vows, and they live their ascetic austere lives in nakedness. The Digambara
sadhvis wear white clothes. The Svetambara sadhus and sadhvis both wear white clothes. According to a 2009 publication by Harvey J. Sindima, Jain monastic community had 6,000 sadhvis of which less than 100 belong to the Digambara
tradition and rest to Svetambara.[20] Becoming a sadhu[edit]

A Vaishnava sadhu in Kathmandu, with a Urdhva Pundra
Urdhva Pundra
mark on his forehead.

The processes and rituals of becoming a sadhu vary with sect; in almost all sects, a sadhu is initiated by a guru, who bestows upon the initiate a new name, as well as a mantra, (or sacred sound or phrase), which is generally known only to the sadhu and the guru and may be repeated by the initiate as part of meditative practice. Becoming a sadhu is a path followed by millions. It is supposed to be the fourth phase in a Hindu's life, after studies, being a father and a pilgrim, but for most it is not a practical option. For a person to become sadhu needs vairagya. Vairagya means desire to achieve something by leaving the world (cutting familial, societal and earthly attachments).[citation needed] A person who wants to become sadhu must first seek a guru. There, he or she must perform 'guruseva' which means service. The guru decides whether the person is eligible to take sannyasa by observing the sisya (the person who wants to become a sadhu or sanyasi). If the person is eligible, guru upadesa (which means teachings) is done. Only then, the person transforms into sanyasi or sadhu. There are different types of sanyasis in India who follow different sampradya. But, all sadhus have a common goal: attaining moksha (liberation).[citation needed] Festive gatherings[edit]

A sadhu in Madurai, India.

Kumbh Mela, a mass-gathering of sadhus from all parts of India, takes place every three years at one of four points along sacred rivers in India, including the holy River Ganges. In 2007 it was held in Nasik, Maharashtra. Peter Owen-Jones filmed one episode of "Extreme Pilgrim" there during this event. It took place again in Haridwar in 2010.[21] Sadhus of all sects join in this reunion. Millions of non-sadhu pilgrims also attend the festivals, and the Kumbh Mela
Kumbh Mela
is the largest gathering of human beings for a single religious purpose on the planet; the most recent Kumbh Mela
Kumbh Mela
started on 14 January 2013, at Allahabad.[citation needed] At the festival, sadhus appear in large numbers, including those "completely naked with ash-smeared bodies, [who] sprint into the chilly waters for a dip at the crack of dawn".[22]


A sadhu in Kathmandu, Nepal

in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh

Sadhus walking on Durbar Square, Kathmandu

from Vârânasî

by the Ghats on the Ganges

Sadhus at Kathmandu
Durbar Square

A sadhu playing flute

in Varanasi, India.

in India.

Sadhvi or female Sadhu
at the Gangasagar Fair transit camp, Kolkata.

at a river bank

in Nepal

See also[edit]


Aghori Godman (India), a colloquial term used in India, often in a derogatory fashion Nath Shramana Shadhu-bhasha


^ See for example: अग्ने विश्वेभिः स्वनीक देवैरूर्णावन्तं प्रथमः सीद योनिम् । कुलायिनं घृतवन्तं सवित्रे यज्ञं नय यजमानाय साधु ॥१६॥ – Rigveda
6.15.16 ( Rigveda
Hymn सूक्तं ६.१५, Wikisource) प्र यज्ञ एतु हेत्वो न सप्तिरुद्यच्छध्वं समनसो घृताचीः । स्तृणीत बर्हिरध्वराय साधूर्ध्वा शोचींषि देवयून्यस्थुः ॥२॥ – Rigveda
7.43.2 ( Rigveda
Hymn सूक्तं ७.४३, Wikisource) यथाहान्यनुपूर्वं भवन्ति यथ ऋतव ऋतुभिर्यन्ति साधु । यथा न पूर्वमपरो जहात्येवा धातरायूंषि कल्पयैषाम् ॥५॥ – Rigveda
10.18.5 ( Rigveda
Hymn सूक्तं १०.१८, Wikisource), etc.


^ a b c Brian Duignan, Sadhu
and swami, Encyclopædia Britannica ^ a b c Jaini 1991, p. xxviii, 180. ^ a b Klaus K. Klostermaier (2007). A Survey of Hinduism: Third Edition. State University of New York Press. p. 299. ISBN 978-0-7914-7082-4.  ^ a b ″Autobiography of an Yogi″, Yogananda, Paramhamsa,Jaico Publishing House, 127, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Bombay Fort Road, Bombay (Mumbai) - 400 0023 (ed.1997) p.16 ^ a b c Sadhu, Monier Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary with Etymology, Oxford University Press, page 1201 ^ Flood, Gavin. An introduction to Hinduism. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996) p. 92. ISBN 0-521-43878-0 ^ Arthur Anthony Macdonell. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. p. 346. ^ Dolf Hartsuiker. Sadhus and Yogis of India. ^ White, David Gordon (2012), The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, University of Chicago Press, pp. 7–8  ^ David N. Lorenzen and Adrián Muñoz (2012), Yogi
Heroes and Poets: Histories and Legends of the Naths, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-1438438900, pages x-xi ^ M Khandelwal (2003), Women in Ochre Robes: Gendering Hindu Renunciation, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791459225, pages 24-29 ^ Mariasusai Dhavamony (2002), Hindu-Christian Dialogue: Theological Soundings and Perspectives, ISBN 978-9042015104, pages 97-98 ^ Gavin Flood (2005), The Ascetic
Self: Subjectivity, Memory and Tradition, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521604017, Chapter 4 with pages 105-107 in particular ^ Gavin Flood (2008). The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. John Wiley & Sons, pp. 212–213, ISBN 978-0-470-99868-7 ^ David N. Lorenzen (1972). The Kāpālikas and Kālāmukhas: Two Lost Śaivite Sects. University of California Press, pp. 4-16, ISBN 978-0-520-01842-6 ^ 1953: 116; cf. also Farquhar 1925; J. Ghose 1930; Lorenzen 1978 ^ "The Wrestler's Body". Publishing.cdlib.org. Retrieved 29 March 2012.  ^ "Home - Amma Sri Karunamayi". Retrieved 20 April 2015.  ^ a b c Cort, John E. (1991). "The Svetambar Murtipujak Jain Mendicant". Man. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 26 (4): 651–671. doi:10.2307/2803774.  ^ Harvey J. Sindima (2009). Introduction to Religious Studies. University Press of America. pp. 100–101. ISBN 978-0-7618-4762-5.  ^ Yardley, Jim; Kumar, Hari (14 April 2010). "Taking a Sacred Plunge, One Wave of Humanity at a Time". New York Times. Retrieved 24 November 2010.  ^ Pandey, Geeta (14 January 2013). "Kumbh Mela: 'Eight million' bathers on first day of festival". BBC News. 

Further reading[edit]

Jaini, Padmanabh S. (1991), Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-06820-3  Indian Sadhus, by Govind Sadashiv Ghurye, L. N. Chapekar. Published by Popular Prakashan, 1964. Sadhus of India: The Sociological View, by Bansi Dhar Tripathi. Published by Popular Prakashan, 1978. The Sadhu: A Study in Mysticism and Practical Religion, by Burnett Hillman Streeter, Aiyadurai Jesudasen Appasamy. Published by Mittal, 1987. ISBN 0-8364-2097-7. The Way of the Vaishnava Sages: A Medieval Story of South Indian Sadhus : Based on the Sanskrit Notes of Vishnu-Vijay Swami, by N. S. Narasimha, Rāmānanda, Vishnu-Vijay. Published by University Press of America, 1987. ISBN 0-8191-6061-X. Sadhus: The Holy Men of India, by Rajesh Bedi. Published by Entourage Pub, 1993. ISBN 81-7107-021-3. Sadhus: Holy Men of India, by Dolf Hartsuiker. Published by Thames & Hudson, 1993. ISBN 0-500-27735-4. The Sadhus and Indian Civilisation, by Vijay Prakash Sharma. Published by Anmol Publications PVT. LTD., 1998. ISBN 81-261-0108-3. Women in Ochre Robes: Gendering Hindu
Renunciation, by Meena Khandelwal. Published by State University of New York Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7914-5922-5. Wandering with Sadhus: Ascetics in the Hindu
Himalayas, Sondra L. Hausner, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-253-21949-7 Naked in Ashes, Paradise Filmworks International – Documentary on Naga Sadhus of Northern India.

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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sadhus.

[1] Sadhus from India (Extract from "Last Free Men" by José Manuel Novoa) INTERVIEW OF A SADHU LIVING INSIDE A CAVE IN THE HIMALAYAS (Episode from "Ganga Ma: A Pilgrimage to the Source" by Pepe Ozan and Melitta Tchaicovsky)

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