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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
Jainism who has renounced the worldly life. They
are sometimes alternatively referred to as jogi,sannyasi or
It literally means one who practises a ″sadhana″ or keenly follows
a path of spiritual discipline. 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
Jainism is often called a sadhvi, or in some texts as
2 Demographics and lifestyle
4 Becoming a sadhu
5 Festive gatherings
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
A sadhu in yoga position, reading a book in Varanasi
The term sadhu (Sanskrit: साधु) appears in
Atharvaveda where it means "straight, right, leading straight to
goal", according to Monier Monier-Williams.[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. In the
Hindu Epics, the term implies someone who is a
"saint, sage, seer, holy man, virtuous, chaste, honest or right".
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.
The words come from the root sādh, which means "reach one's goal",
"make straight", or "gain power over". 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
Demographics and lifestyle
There are 4 to 5 million sadhus in India today and they are widely
respected for their holiness. 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.
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. 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.
A female sadhvi with a
Vishnu mark on her forehead
Sadhus gathered at Assam's Kamakhya Temple for the Ambubachi Mela
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. 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
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. 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.
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
Buddhism, the Jain householders support the monastic community. 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. They were
a part of Dumont's theory on social stratification, but according to
John Cort, the empirical data refutes Dumont thesis. There are
differences between the
Digambara and Svetambara sadhus and sadhvi
Digambara sadhus own no clothes as a part of their interpretation
of Five vows, and they live their ascetic austere lives in nakedness.
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
Becoming a sadhu
A Vaishnava sadhu in Kathmandu, with a
Urdhva Pundra mark on his
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
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).
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.
Sadhus of all sects join in this reunion. Millions of non-sadhu
pilgrims also attend the festivals, and the
Kumbh Mela is the largest
gathering of human beings for a single religious purpose on the
planet; the most recent
Kumbh Mela started on 14 January 2013, at
Allahabad. 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
A sadhu in Kathmandu, Nepal
Sadhu in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh
Sadhus walking on Durbar Square, Kathmandu
Sadhu from Vârânasî
Sadhu by the Ghats on the Ganges
Kathmandu Durbar Square
A sadhu playing flute
Sadhu in Varanasi, India.
Sadhu in India.
Sadhvi or female
Sadhu at the Gangasagar Fair transit camp, Kolkata.
Sadhu at a river bank
Sadhu in Nepal
Godman (India), a colloquial term used in India, often in a derogatory
^ See for example:
अग्ने विश्वेभिः स्वनीक
सीद योनिम् । कुलायिनं
घृतवन्तं सवित्रे यज्ञं नय
यजमानाय साधु ॥१६॥ –
Rigveda Hymn सूक्तं ६.१५, Wikisource)
प्र यज्ञ एतु हेत्वो न
घृताचीः । स्तृणीत
Rigveda 7.43.2 (
Rigveda Hymn सूक्तं
यथ ऋतव ऋतुभिर्यन्ति साधु ।
यथा न पूर्वमपरो जहात्येवा
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.
^ 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,
^ 1953: 116; cf. also Farquhar 1925; J. Ghose 1930; Lorenzen 1978
^ "The Wrestler's Body". Publishing.cdlib.org. Retrieved 29 March
^ "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.
^ Yardley, Jim; Kumar, Hari (14 April 2010). "Taking a Sacred Plunge,
One Wave of Humanity at a Time". New York Times. Retrieved 24 November
^ Pandey, Geeta (14 January 2013). "Kumbh Mela: 'Eight million'
bathers on first day of festival". BBC News.
Jaini, Padmanabh S. (1991), Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the
Spiritual Liberation of Women, University of California Press,
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.
Wandering with Sadhus: Ascetics in the
Hindu Himalayas, Sondra L.
Hausner, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2007.
Naked in Ashes, Paradise Filmworks International – Documentary
on Naga Sadhus of Northern India.
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