I had seen umpteen pictures of  Aghori sadhus on media, fast flipping them at first but later on zooming in to the minutest detail. What exactly was I looking for, I don’t reckon? The concept & practitioners of Aghora intimidated me till I read the book series on this sect by Robert Svoboda. How could these beings live in a state of ‘fearlessness and unconditioning?’  Not so comfortable thoughts of what it would be like if one crossed my path and later be able to meet with one personally, had begun to arise within, time and again.

Those who know me well know my little daring spirit. I will do anything to galivant in mystical areas in the still of the night provided I have at least one person with me. It was well past 11 pm. We had just finished dinner in the ashram dotted area of Haridwar, North India. My niece’s young male friend had regaled us with his detailed true accounts of an Aghori sadhu dragging a fresh human body into his hut and how on being discovered he and his sadhak friends were chased away with a stick. Our bellies warmed and a little overstuffed with the hot chapatis & paneer, he suggested walking us back to our hotel which was on the other side of town. He led us through the narrow, quaint broken lanes with barely any space. We walked in a single file to avoid the street dogs and also to have a glimpse of life behind the few partially opened windows. It seemed like a journey of sorts and soon we were in the Har Ki Pauri. So, I thought… this was the holy site from where one could attain ‘moksha’. There was no magic, only beggars huddling close on the floor and massive floodlights which tainted the low flowing Ganges in a very strange putrid blue.

And as we walked to the howls of the dogs, an unusually fattened tree trunk in the middle of a pavement caught my attention. My niece’s male friend discouraged me from going close. I trailed behind.  Drawing close, I looked up at the tree and visualized the mendicants and sages who would have meditated under this very tree. Reading the tree’s age on the placard to be more than 300 years, I was barely breathing lest some noise from me shatter the sheer mysterious scenario. Observing as minutely as I could and my attention leading to the floor, I witnessed an Aghori lay curled on the cold pavement, asleep. His ash smeared body was resting. A ‘Dhuna’  marked the territory. I learnt it belonged to Shri Siddha Baba Swatant Puri Ji Maharaj, and has been apparently burning for more than 100 years. A sign of ‘ No Photography’ was enough warning against trespassing unfenced boundaries. We walked back to the hotel with our own thoughts for company.

This was also during the period of the ‘Surya Sadhna’. Early next morning my spouse came up with the idea to offer the ‘Jal’ at a Shiv Linga since we were in Haridwar. As our hotel was located on the posh side of Haridwar, I told him it was not a feasible idea. Not wanting to argue he made me drape a shawl over my red gown and we walked out like some wannabe sanyasis, red tilak et all. We stepped out of our hotel. We were just about to offer the ‘Jal’ to the root of a plant instead when we noticed a Shiva Linga on the Ghat. It was uncanny to see it stand alone just like that. We walked towards it and looked around for the priest or person in charge to seek permission before offering the water.  No one would think of looking downward! But I did and discovered the opening to a small cave.  I bent down to peep in. And Lo and behold- In it was seated a magnificent Aghori Sadhu in his full Avatar. His eyes glowing amber staring straight at me, his matted locks like the largest ball of seasoned ropes I had ever seen. It covered the entire width of his head and his glistening ash smeared body was unfathomable.  Was the ash from someone’s pyre? How could one do that? Yet, I took it all in utter disbelief.

Stumped, I gesticulated for permission to offer my ’Jal’ which he gave. Post that he invited me into his cave and initiated a long conversation. He understood English. He asked me about my family. He knew about aviation.  He asked me what I was doing in Haridwar. He then asked for my husband to come in, anointed him with ash but held no conversation. I placed some cash at the ‘Dhuna’, offered my gratitude and left. My spouse grumbled for not having been spoken to. How come I had felt no fear, no apprehension? I was quite at comfort through this rendezvous. 

The same afternoon, my niece’s friend took me for an immersion at the BrahmaKund in the Har Ki Pauri. Mother Ganges was flowing just knee level high. The ghat was abuzz with hundreds of people performing the last prayers for their deceased. And just as I immersed myself I saw pundits immersing the ash remains too. It may have cloaked me head to toe. I wasn’t creeped out other than thoughts of hygiene. I immersed myself twice more and walked out.

“Har Har Gangae!” I surrender to Thee.

For Jesus reminds,” Thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.”Genesis 3:19 

Before leaving for Rishikesh the next day, I wanted to see ‘my aghori baba’ one more time. I returned with four varied fruit offerings. The human mind is quick to forge an association or a certain familiarity. Maybe I had that expectation too which I later realized was not the right attitude.

The Aghori Sadhu Baba did acknowledge and speak to me but I observed him this time in his truest form- Detached. I cannot explain this detached state of his. It’s an observance, a feeling, a realization in my heart.

Dedicated to the ONE who has shown me this in this Lifetime-  My beloved GuruDev Om Swami.

#Spiritual Travel Diaries- Haridwar Oct 2021.

#Imprints & Manifestations

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