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The Baba Chronicles

Forget Madonna. Our sadhus are firmly living in the material world. SHANTANU GUHA RAY at the Kumbh

AN ESTIMATED 1,40,000 Naga sadhus crowd the Juna Akhara on the banks of the Ganges at Haridwar and their lives are quite the party circuit.Sitting close to a flower-framed urn holding currency notes donated to his spiritual leader, Swami Ananda Giri says there’s really no tradition he’s breaking. He’s been in the sect for more than a decade but has never smeared himself with ash and has always worn flowing, silky saffron robes. He prefers an old Nokia 1100 but has colleagues who have Blackberry handsets and laptops with Internet cards. Some even have iPods connected to fancy speakers.

There are others who are breaking no tradition with their preference to travel with pet Labradors. In short, the Naga sect — known to shun everything materialistic — is acquiring new hues, shunning their ash-smeared ascetiscism. “I cannot leave my dog at the akhara. He will die of hunger. He is my son,” says the one holding the leash to a double-coated German Shepherd. Pratapananda is a member of the German Shepherd Dog Club of India (GDCI) and corresponds with Sanjit Kumar Mohanty, a top GDCI official regularly. Having a bath on the sacred days during the Kumbh — when the mighty Ganges is said to turn into a river of nectar — is not important. “I have no sins to cleanse.”

Kumbh Mela organisers say 14 akharas got 45 minutes each on the special bathing day but barring a few thousands, the rest of the Juna Akhara wore robes when they approached the sacred Har-Ki-Pauri (where God’s feet touched the earth). “What is constant is the pot. This one has remained earthen,” laughs Maha Manav Giri, a Naga sadhu who loves playing Bollywood music on his Sony VAIO laptop. He points skyward when questioned about his collection of expensive gizmos. His gaze is fixed on a giant helium balloon that serves as a route guide for followers of the Pilot Baba. It costs over Rs 1 lakh every month to have a balloon advertisement. “Baba should be in the air,” laughs Sachhidananda Prabhu, one of the organisers of the Baba, a former wing commander who was known as Kapil Advait, the IAF pilot who had fought in the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan. Prabhu gives a straight-faced explanation for the balloon: “Directions are important at the Kumbh.” True. On special days, the crowds are rather enormous — around 80 lakh, and 40-odd lakhs on normal days.

Perhaps tiring of the crowds, some of the Nagas have also moved into expensive hotels that cost as much as Rs 5,000 per night. Only a lowly handful — still camp next to the bathing ghats.

Setting one apart from the crowd is important for all brands. And Pilot Baba, has understood this dictum. Unlike the aerial direction of Pilot Baba, Computer Baba prefers the e-route for his followers. At the entrance of Neeldhara, the space reserved for the akharas, his followers greet guests with laptops and handsets. Mark your arrival and your bed would be instantly confirmed. There’s the e-option for those who mailed their journey details. “You would have got nothing if we had shunned everything,” says Kumar Kanchan, who works at the ashram. For him, like everything else in life, the business of babas must evolve.

WRITER’S EMAIL
shantanu@tehelka.com
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 12, Dated March 27, 2010

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SHIVA JI WOULD NOT APPROVE OF THIS FUCKERY >>:( These people disgrace the already heavily tainted name of 'Baba'.
Tags: india, religion
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