Bizarre saints of India

India is a land of mysticism with a culture that dates back thousands of years. It gave yoga and the concept of Nirvana to the world. Many people visit India to find spiritual gurus, to attain enlightenment and to know the meaning and purpose of life. When picturing a saint or a guru, one might picture a man in saffron clothing, long beard and always meditating. Although this is usually the case, what many people might not know are the very weird and bizarre kinds of saints present.

Let us look at some of these bizarre and weird saints.

10 Devraha Baba- The ageless Yogi

Although there are no records of his birth year, still by looking at all the historic accounts, it can be predicted that he was at least two hundred to two hundred and fifty years old (there are some speculations of him being nine hundred years old).The first president of independent India Dr. Rajendra Prasad had mentioned in his autobiography that his father sat at the feet of Devraha Baba as a child, which was in the middle of the nineteenth century, and he was already elderly back then. An Allahabad High Court District Barrister stated that seven generations of his family had sat at the feet of Baba. Eminent people who visited him to seek his blessings included Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi among many others.

He lived on a 12-foot high wooden platform near Yamuna River in Mathura where thousands of devotees gathered daily to seek the holy man’s blessing. The appearance of Baba in Kumbha Mela, which takes place once in every twelve years, was recorded twelve times. He did not wear any clothes and he never ate anything, as he was able to draw energy from cosmic sources. He only drank water from the Yamuna River. Devraha Baba was a yogi of the highest order. The ageless yogi gained mastery over Khechari state of yoga whereby he was able to control his hunger and the time of his death. He was once observed to stay underwater for half an hour unaided.

In 1990, he took samadhi and left his body. Interestingly, he predicted his death five years prior. His shrine is located across the Yamuna River in the pilgrimage city of Vrindavan.


9 Tat Wale Baba – Anti-aging Saint

Tat Wale baba (Jute wearing Baba) looked surprisingly younger than his age. He did not wear any clothes except for an ochre loincloth held at the waist by a brass chain. He had such long black hair, if left open; it would trail on the ground. Even at the age of eighty, he looked no older than mid-thirties and had an impressive build; fathom that.

Tat Wale Baba was born to a spiritual family of middle-class farmers in Punjab, India. Although his birth records are not known, according to his elementary school classmate, who later saw Baba, he stopped aging at the age of thirty-five. Assuming baba of the same age as the classmate, he would have been born around 1890. From the age of eight or nine, he was inclined towards spirituality and used to meditate whenever he got time. As a teenager, he grew up with an impressive physique. His friends persuaded him to join the army; which he did, but he didn’t like the army lifestyle and left after two months of service and went in pursuit of a guru to guide him towards the spiritual path. After much of the search and coming across a couple of gurus, he intuitively went to Manikut Mountain where he came across an emaciated old man in a cave. Both chatted for several hours and after the conversation ended the old man left the cave to Tat wale baba saying that his time is finished and he is going to the Himalayas to take Mahasamadhi.Baba had a twelve-feet long cobra snake as a pet and he regularly fed it milk. It was rumored that he had contacted the King Cobra and asked him that no cobra to ever bite a human in that area. There was no incidence of a snake biting in that mountain area.

On 2nd December 1974, on his way to a morning bath, he was shot dead by a crazy gunman. Baba would be around eighty-five years of age at the time of his death. Incidentally, he told his closest disciple, about his death, five years prior and even reminded him of the prediction just two days before the incident.


8 Lotan Baba – Rolling Saint

Mohan Das now known as Lotan baba is a man who took even extremes to an extreme level.

Once he took a penance of standing for twelve years where he stood under a banyan tree in a village. He didn’t take any handouts from anyone, so on top of standing for seven years, he survived only by eating grass. The villagers considered him a holy man with divine powers and regularly visited him to seek his blessings.

After completing his seven years of the oath, he did not just sit around. He pledged a new penance of visiting the shrine of Vaishnav Devi (Hindu Pilgrimage) at the foothills of the Himalaya, which was approximately seventeen hundred miles from his village. Walking all the way itself would be considered a huge feat of endurance but he decided to roll all the way to his destination. When asked why he wanted to take up such an agonizing journey, he said that the goddess Durga came in his dream and summoned him there. A few local villagers came forward to accompany him in the journey. The entourage went with him facing all the extreme elements of nature. The journey took them around six months facing blistering summer, monsoon rain, desert sands and a snowy mountain. Everywhere he passed along the holy journey, he got a warm reception and people flocked to see and receive blessings from the rolling baba.

At the age of fifty-five, he took up another rolling expedition to roll all the way to Lahore, Pakistan in the name of World Peace. After rolling fifteen hundred miles across India, the Holy Roller came to a grinding halt as the border guards stopped him at the gates of Wagha Border for not having a passport.


7 Giribala – Non-eating saint.

At the age of sixty-eight, Giribala was a yogini (women yogi) who had not eaten or drunk anything from the age twelve i.e. for fifty-six years. Paramhansa Yogananda in his autobiography ‘The Autobiography of a Yogi’ has written about his meeting with Giribala.

He met her in 1936, in her small village called Biur in Bengal. As a child, she was a voracious eater and was taunted mercilessly by her mother-in-law for her gluttony, after she got married at the age of twelve. Her mother-in-law’s scoldings were a blessing in disguise. One day when her taunts became unbearable she vowed to never touch food again for the rest of her life.

In great despair, she prayed to her God to send a guru who could teach her to live by God’s light alone and not food. The guru materialized right in front of her and initiated a special kriya technique involving specific mantras and breathing exercises (way beyond the scope of an average person), which freed her body from dependence on food and she was able to harness the energy from astral light. She told Yogananda that she never had a child. She hardly slept and had no bodily excretion. When the Maharaja of her province came to know about her, he invited her to his place to conduct an investigation into her claims; which she agreed to. She lived locked up for two months in a small section of his home. Later she was again tested for twenty days and a third time for another fifteen days, upon which the Maharaja of Burdwan himself said that these three rigorous scrutinies have convinced him beyond any doubt of her non-eating state.

When asked why she does not share this knowledge with others, she said her Guru has forbidden her from this and she only wants to show that it’s possible to live by the Eternal light if a person is able to achieve higher spiritual awareness.


6 Fakir Haridas – Buried Alive for forty days 

To be buried under the ground for forty days and still come out alive; seems some kind of a legend that grandpas would tell to amuse their grandchildren.

Although it may appear far-fetched, this is what Fakir (saint) Haridas did. Haridas was a 19th-century fakir who had an incredible control of his physiology. He could reduce his heartbeats to such low levels that it became undetectable and allowed himself to be buried in this state for weeks. In 1837, Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab summoned the fakir in his Lahore court and asked him to replicate this feat. He took a sitting position and dropped his vitals to an undetectable level. His ears and nostrils were shut with wax and cotton, after which he was wrapped in linen and placed in a large chest. A heavy padlock was fixed and sealed with Maharaja’s own seal. The chest was then buried in a garden and walls on all four sides were erected around the grave and sentinels were posted to monitor it day and night.

Upon completion of forty days period, the chest was dug out. The body of the fakir, which appeared lifeless, was inspected by an English physician of his court. The physician confirmed that there were no signs of life present. The servant of the fakir then proceeded to bath him in hot water and straighten his stiffed legs. He pulled out the cotton and wax stuffed in his ears and nostrils and rubbed his eyelids with Ghee (purified butter). The servant applied hot cakes on his head and repeated the process thrice; sadhu’s body convulsed violently and slowly started regaining the respiration. Seeing the Maharaja in front of him, he calmly asked: “Do you believe me now?” The Maharaja nodded his head and showered him with pearls, a pair of a gold bracelet and different kinds of royal gifts.


5 Kahreswari Babas - The standing Babas 

There is a concept of Tapasya in Hinduism, where you put yourself through self-inflicted suffering for an extended duration in order to find spiritual enlightenment. The pain purifies and elevates the soul to a higher level of spiritual awareness. 

Standing Babas are one of a kind. They have taken the ultimate vow of standing for twelve years straight. Some have even gone further and vowed never to sit for the rest of their lives. They never sit or lay down. They even sleep standing up. They stand before a small hammock to rest their arms and torso to sleep. A sling hangs beneath the hammock in which they may rest one leg at a time while other remains standing.

Their feet get swollen and disfigured due to years of standing without ever resting their feet. They are in a constant state of pain but still standing strong. These are individuals with the greatest level of self-discipline, motivated by the pursuit of finding God through their pain.

Many Standing Babas (aka Kahreswari Babas) currently reside in Mumbai. They were mentioned in a best-selling novel Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.


4 Sadhu Amar Bharati – Man with a raised arm

Sadhu Amar Bharti is a man who has kept his hands raised for more than 40 years now, to show his devotion to Lord Shiva.

Initially a clerk by profession, he left everything, in 1970, to become a true devotee of Shiva. After three years of his worship to Shiva, he felt his devotion is not strong enough and was not fully able to detach himself from worldly luxuries and pleasures. In 1973, he decided to raise his hands up to the sky in order to detach himself from the worldly pleasures and show his devotion in a unique way.

More than four decades of raised arm has left his right arm in a deformed state. His hand is extremely atrophied and nails have grown out like curly twigs. Initially, he endured extreme pain for quite a while but he said eventually the pain subsided. Now the hand is stuck in the raised position. He told the reporters that he raised his hands as a protest against war and violence and to promote world peace.

His raised hand is a symbol of his true devotion. This has inspired other sadhus to follow him and raise their hands as a gesture of salute to Shiva. Some of his followers have their hands raised for more than a decade now.


3 Kapalika Sadhus - Skull bearers

According to Tantric literature, Kapalika sadhus are a sect of Shiva worshippers who only eat or drink in a human skull. Hence the name Kapalika, from the Sanskrit word kapala meaning skull. Although there is no proof, the skull bowl they use, allegedly, comes from a human sacrifice. Most of the scripture explaining the detailed practices and rituals of Kapalikas has been lost. Their origins are believed to be around the 7th-century. According to Ramanuja, an ancient scholar, they worshiped Bhairava (incarnation of Lord Shiva) and attributed great virtue and mystical powers to drinking wine and eating disgusting substances as food. Though fictional, their mentions in the 8th-century Sanskrit play Malatimadhava and Prabodhachandrodaya, in which they were depicted as violent and hostile, are considered important to the authentication of Kapalika ascetics.


2 Naga Sadhus – The naked saints

 Naga sadhus are a tribe of warrior saints created to protect Sanatan Dharma (Hinduism) from invaders and anti-Vedic elements. Their main weapon is a trident. 

Training to become a Naga sadhu is no ordinary task and way beyond what a normal person might be able to handle. In order to become a Naga sadhu, a person must first of all have to forgo all his worldly possessions and vow a life-long celibacy, not only physically but mentally as well, to attain purity of character. They are not allowed to wear any clothes or decorate their bodies except for smearing their bodies with ashes of dead bodies. The only clothes they are allowed is a single piece of saffron cloth and that too should not cover their entire body. They have to go through their own death rituals, after which they are pronounced dead to their families and rest of the world. They are not allowed to live near civilization. They are allowed to eat only once a day and that too must come as a handout from someone. If they did not receive any food, they have to starve for that day. They have to always sleep on the ground; no luxury of a bed, not even a mat on the floor is allowed. The place where they live and train are called Akharas. Becoming a Naga sadhu of the highest order takes twenty to thirty years.


1 Aghoris- Cannibal Saints

Generally, people are happy to see a sadhu (saint) and seek his blessings for one’s well-being, but the Aghoris are a different clan of sadhus. People are really scared of them and never dare to cross them. They are generally not seen in public. They often perform rituals, in a crematory, on freshly burned bodies and smear its ashes all over their own bodies. They are a devotee of Bhairava (incarnation of Lord Shiva). Cannibalism is a common practice among them. Their appetite consists of the filthiest of things like animal feces, animal urine, rotten food, rotting human bodies.

They practice bizarre sexual rituals with corpses (necrophilia). They are always drunk and high on cannabis, yet their eyes appear to be very calm and sober.

This clan of sadhus is said to be thousand years old. According to them, their rituals and diet may appear bizarre to the rest of the world but their philosophy is to find nirvana (freedom from the cycle of life and death) by seeking purity in filth. They are rumored to be having magical medicines which can heal any kind of illness.

Just a heads up, if anyone decides to go finding these aghoris out of curiosity, there are many fakes out there. It is said that one cannot look straight into the eyes of a true Aghori; it is like looking to Kaal Bhairava himself. Baba Kinaram is believed to be the first Aghora.

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Comments (3)

  1. jabeen

Very interesting article. Except for naga sadhu & Lotan baba, I ve not heard about any of them earlier.

  1. Abhishek Dass

India has always been a land of such mysticism but the modern culture lost touch with this. Most people won't believe that such saints existed. Spirituality is not a religion but science and these saints mastered this science.

  1. vijay

Interesting and well written.

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