Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are meeting a Holy man also known as a 'Baba' in the town of Pushkar in Rajasthan, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
Found throughout India, they are seen in towns and cities and walking along roads with begging pots and staffs. They are respected by Hindus and given food in return for their blessings and prayers and they are also known as 'Babas'. 'Sadhus' are wandering ascetics affiliated with a wide range of Hindu religious orders and schools as seen in this photograph from Pushkar in Rajasthan.
Found throughout India, they are seen in towns and cities and walking along roads with begging pots and staffs. They are respected by Hindus and given food in return for their blessings and prayers and they are also known as 'Babas'. 'Sadhus' are wandering ascetics affiliated with a wide range of Hindu religious orders and schools as seen in this photograph from Pushkar in Rajasthan.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on March 22, 2024

Holy men in India

It is very difficult to determine the exact number of 'Sadhus'. According to various assumptions, there are 4 to 5 million 'Sadhus' in India today. 'Sadhus' are widely respected for their holiness and it is also thought that the austere practices of the 'Sadhus' help to burn off their 'Karma' and that of the community at large.

How many holy men are there in India?

There are believed to be around five million 'Sadhus' belonging to several thousand schools or sects in India. Most 'Sadhus' are males.

An integral part of Indian culture and religion
Holy men in India are revered figures who are held in high esteem for their dedication to God and spiritual teachings. These holy men are called 'Sadhus' and they are an integral part of Indian culture and religion and these holy men are often seen as ascetics who have renounced the material world in order to pursue spiritual enlightenment. They live a life of poverty and simplicity and abstain from all forms of sensual pleasure. 'Sadhus' are known for their distinctive dress and long dreadlocks. They often wear saffron robes and carry tridents, as symbols of their dedication to spiritual practices.

"'Sadhus' are often seen at various religious festivals and temples throughout India, where they are venerated and respected by the locals and they are also known for their healing powers and ability to perform miracles. 'Sadhus' are believed to be able to bless people with good fortune, success and health"

Meditation, yoga and austerit
The 'Sadhus' are also known for their ascetic practices, such as meditation, yoga and austerity. These practices are believed to bring the 'Sadhus' closer to the divine and to help them attain higher spiritual states. In addition, 'Sadhus' often practice chanting and some even practice extreme forms of asceticism such as standing for long periods of time on one leg or sleeping on beds of nails.The holy men of India are a source of inspiration and devotion for many people. They are seen as living embodiments of divine truth and spiritual power. As such, they are respected and revered by the people of India.

India is a country full of spirituality and ancient traditions

A large part of this is due to the holy men or 'Sadhus', who are an important part of Indian culture and they are ascetic holy men who have forsaken all material possessions in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and they are revered and respected by all Hindus and their presence is a reminder of the spiritual nature of India. 'Sadhus' are often seen in public places such as temples, roadsides and railway stations and are easily identified by their orange or saffron robes.

'Sadhus' lead a life of extreme austerity and renunciation and they are usually vegetarian and do not consume alcohol or drugs and they live on alms and donations from devotees and often travel around the country. These men are considered to be highly enlightened and many people seek their blessings and guidance and they are believed to have supernatural powers and are often consulted for advice. 'Sadhus' also play an important role in Hindu rituals such as weddings and festivals. 'Sadhus' are an integral part of Indian culture and are a symbol of spiritual power and strength and their presence is a reminder of the ancient traditions and values that India holds dear.

Outstanding historical sites in India
A 'Sadhu' in India is also referred as 'Baba' by common peoples and most 'Sadhus' rely on the donations of lay peoples and tere are female 'Sadhus' as well known as 'Sadhvis'. A saint, yogi, beggar, even if of younger age may be called 'Baba' but you should be cautious while calling anyone 'Baba' because few people may not like it, as it refers old and poor people in general and unlike skilled and professionals, there is no certification for 'Sadhus'. 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 instance, '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 and 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"

The process of becoming a 'Sadhu'
The processes and rituals of becoming a 'Sadhu' vary with sect and 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 in Hinduism. 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. A person who wants to become 'Sadhu' must first seek a guru and 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' and 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', which means 'Liberation'.

See this video about holy men in India made by India Inspires.

"- As a travel photographer, I have been fortunate enough to explore and capture the beauty of various countries and cultures. But my journey to India has been a unique and transformative experience unlike any other. India, the land of vibrant colors, rich history and diverse cultures, has always been a dream destination for me. So, when I got the opportunity to travel there as a photographer, I was beyond excited. And let me tell you, it certainly did not disappoint", the Photographer says.

"- One of the most memorable experiences I had as a travel photographer in India was during the light festival of 'Diwali'. I had heard so much about this festival of light and I was excited to capture its vibrancy through my lens. As I joined in the celebrations, dancing in the streets with the locals, I realized that photography was not just about capturing beautiful images but also about creating memories and connections. India is a country that never fails to surprise and inspire me as a travel photographer. With its rich culture, diverse landscapes and warm-hearted people, it is a photographer's paradise. Each trip to India only leaves me craving for more and I can't wait to pack my camera and embark on my next adventure in this magnificent country", the Photographer says again.

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More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a 'Baba' in Maharashtra. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.