Who are Naga Sadhus?
To understand the Naga Sadhus, it is important to know who Shiva is. Because these ascetics – those who are really on Spiritual path and seriously with a Guru who knows what he doing, as opposed to just a naked Sadhu taking intoxicants – are on the path as closely aligned to the life of Shiva, the original Yogi, as it can possibly get!
For the Yogis, Shiva is not a “God”. He is the origin of all Spirituality. When he walked the earth, he did so with complete disdain for the society or social norms and niceties. He was himself always in bliss so fully that he didn’t really care for the society at large. And when he interacted with the Society, he did on his own terms. Walking around with ash all over his body(from the cremation grounds) – a reminder of the temporal nature of the body – and large hair tied carelessly, with rowdy and demented alien beings who never fit in any society.
Society is an organized way of living. It has to have its own norms – formal and informal. Laws, principles and limitations of being in a society are important for it to function.
In Hinduism, a society has been engaged with in three different ways to show the worthlessness of the societal norms to a Spiritual Seeker or an Enlightened Being.
One could, if one had complete control over one’s ownself, live fully within the limits of the society and never cross any of the set limits, and yet be an Enlightened Being. The world will keep judging such a person for his inability to break the norms, not realizing that he has deliberately chosen to remain fully and completely within them knowing their worthlessness and knowing that it is after all a play. Such a life was lived by Ram.
One could also live within a society, but not live by any contemporary norms. Such a being – while Enlightened – could play around with every norm to get his work done to establish Spiritual Order. An order where men and women live in more awareness. Where, even if women are confined to their homes in any time and age, and forced to live a life of devotion to her family, can find a way to play around that norm as well by dipping deeply in her devotion for something far more profound. Such a life was lived by Krishna.
One could also just denounce the society in a way that one doesn’t even consider it worth his while. And he engages ONLY when his compassion is poked by the devotion of an extremely resilient devotee. When a devotee with single minded focus forces him to take notice, ONLY then such a being even agrees to engage and touch the world, in ways and compassion very few can come up with. Such a life was lived by Shiva.
Between living in a society fully within the norms without opposition; to living within a society but playing around with norms; to treating the society itself with disdain unless cajoled by unrelenting devotion; all three “engagement models” with the society have been demonstrated.
Most Ascetics are inspired by Shiva. They leave society for they do not find anything worth craving for in it. And, in their own way, take up a veneer that is “anti-social” so that they aren’t bothered by the society at large. Naga Sadhus are one such bunch.
But this is not an easy path. It requires a lot of Sadhana and lot of discipline. One wonders how many of the Naga Sadhus of today understand the depths and the profundity of their path. Because the way they show themselves off these days is that they are naked and high on marijuana. Being high and being stark naked may seem “romantic” and “esoteric”, but these two things aren’t enough to make you a Spiritual Seeker.
Just as there are lots of people going through Medical Colleges, but not all can really be called Doctors as to how they can really solve the health issues of their patients. It is the same with the Naga Sadhus. Some of the Naga Sadhus from hundreds who come from so many Akharas and who descend on the MahaKumbh would actually be truly reflecting the Disdain for Society of Shiva coupled with an extreme level of compassion for true and unrelenting devotion. Those few who embody the Grace of Adi-Yogi Shiva beneath the strange veneer that shouts disdain for the society are rare. Those – even a handful – are the ones who make going to Mahakumbh worth all your effort.