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Up to snuff... in the buff!


The annual Bhavnath Fair in Gujarat is ample consolation to the long three-year interludes between the Kumbh Melas. Particularly awaited by the usually elusive Naga Sadhus, the naked ash-smeared devotees of Lord Shiva, the Fair ignites a frenzy that lies between eccentric and ecstatic. Mayank Vyas and Hitesh Ankleshwaria in Junagadh…
TSI | Issue Dated: March 23, 2008
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Up to snuff... in the buff! “Sahabji, abhi to bahut bheed hoga, Bhavnath tak nahi jaa sakenge. Raste main Ram Tekri ka circle aata hai, vahan chhod denge,” Firoz Jalwani, the auto driver, was worrying about the sea of humanity that would have converged around the Bhavnath Shiv Temple at the foot of Mount Girnar, Junagadh, Gujarat. It was the last day of the Bhavnath Fair on the day of Maha Shivratri, set to reach its climax by midnight. Ram Tekri was about three-four km from the main site of the Fair. It was here we saw what Firoz was talking of – endless queues of people progressing in one direction, i.e. towards the base of Mount Girnar.

The Bhavnath Fair, they say, has been taking place for more than 5000 years. We closed in on a two-storied building that we thought would lend a great photo-op vantage point. It was the Dudheshwar Temple muth. Mahant Yoganand Brahmchari said, “The Bhavnath Temple is mentioned even in Skand Puran (one of 18 Purans of Hindu scriptures). There are three akharas (Hindu monasteries) that participate in the main procession on the last day, which coincides with Maha Shivratri – Juna Akhara, Aahvan Akhara and Agni Akhara.”

Mahantji was keen on every fact he knew about the legend of this annual fair, but frankly, we were getting impatient to reach the main attraction of this Fair – the Naga Sadhus. Clothed in legend – and nothing else – these Naga Sadhus, some believe, live in the caves of Mount Girnar and emerge only once a year on the occasion of this Fair. The only other time to see them is at the Kumbh Mela which takes place every three years. The Naga Sadhus have camped on the sides of a lane, not having to try too hard to attract attention of the visitors – almost 12 lakhs – at the Mela. They usually carry fire ash as talcum powder to refresh themselves. We asked one of them his name. Unugiri Nagabava Babutiya Tapasvi Up to snuff... in the buff! Rajrajeshwar. He belonged to the Shree Panchdashnam Juna Akhara, Girnar. “Bachcha, pehle is baba ki jholi me kuchh daal, to sab jawab milega.” The Sadhu had a rather imperious way of asking for alms. After putting a 10 rupee note in baba’s khappar (a black bowl which sadhus usually carry to eat in), he revealed, “I live in the caves of Himachal and come to Girnar every year. I don’t even recall for how many years now.” Suddenly a senior sadhu sitting at a distance beckoned, only to slap him! For talking to us? We walked on.

Naga Sadhus are believed to survive on ganja (marijuana) to keep hunger at bay. Mahant Nagabava Kishangiri was smoking some as we enquired about their origins. He had been initiated into this extreme asceticism at the age of eight! He let me in on some more intriguing facts around their saintly order. “The diksha (initiation ceremony) of Naga Sadhus occurs only at the Kumbh. We have the option of being a Vastradhari (clothed) or a Naga Sadhu (naked). In the case of the latter, we need to go through certain rigorous tests. After successfully completing those exams, the main Sadhu of our Akhara performs the Tangtod ritual, wherein the Mahant strikes the candidate’s male organ with a chimta (iron tongs – a Naga Sadhu’s weapon), after which it loses its sexual function.” Up to snuff... in the buff! We have now gotten more curious for the real show, which kicks off around 7 o’clock in the evening. A certain Mohangiri Naga Sadhu shows up with a big stone that looks impossible enough to lift with mere two hands. But we held on to our jaws from dropping to the ground when he tied a rope around it and lifted it with his… well, balls!! It was disgusting and daring at the same time... But unbelievable! As media photographers clambered over one another to shoot the spectacle, the congregation of Sadhus was only happy to oblige all. Another young Naga Sadhu rolled a stick into his organ and lifted two healthy Naga Sadhus on it! The crowds cheered on in a mix of reverence and awe and delight. Weren’t they having a ‘ball’?! As the lights came on around the city and the temples, the local bands broke out into religious music at deafening volumes. And the Naga Sadhus danced like they were in Lord Shiva’s marriage procession! The crowds behind the barricades chanted ‘Har Har Mahadev’ as the palanquins of the Gods passed, followed by the Naga Sadhus. Denuded of any earthly attachments, the Naga Sadhus are, devotees believe, closest to the Gods. That atmosphere and the experience were out of the world and we struggle to find words to describe it.

The procession ended at Mrugi Kund, the sacred pond in Bhavnath Temple, where the Naga Sadhus have the right to the first dip, just like at the Kumbh Mela. The fair was reaching a crescendo and we were hoping to talk to some more after their dip. But after marching out of the waters, the Sadhus simply ignored any call to interact and dispersed out of sight. Possibly, the mysterious caves were awaiting their regular occupants…
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017