A chillum pipe in hand, wrapped in a red cloth, Swaminathan, 51, was relaxing on a plastic sheet. River Ganges flowed just a few feet away, with all its calmness in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. As I observed him, I was keen to know why he had become a sadhu. And, I found out.
Swaminathan was from a well-respected family in Rameswaram. They were a wealthy family too. The family business was that of supplying ganja (marijuana) to the spiritual visitors, mainly Sadhus. Thus even at the age of 10, Swaminathan had easy access to ganja and his friends tempted him to steal some and smoke with them.
One night he slept longer than usual under the influence of ganja. He rushed to the school as soon as he got up in the morning. He was caned hard by the teacher because he had not completed his homework. He felt insulted in the class and felt that he did not deserve to be punished so badly. He waited outside the school during the lunch break, and when his teacher walked out, he struck the teacher hard with a stone.
The teacher, of course, complained to the parents. The parents, in turn, felt insulted and were angry. Swaminathan ran to a ground close by, instead of returning home, to avoid the wrath of his parents. Indeed, his parents found him and dragged him home. They beat him too. He was tied upside down with a little support of the wall. After over 12 hours, he was given temporary relief from the punishment to freshen up in the morning. That was enough of an opportunity for him to run away from home. Without stopping, he jogged as far away from the city as he could. Only in the evening, did he realise that he has walked away from home, not knowing how far.
But he never felt like going back home. He continued to walk the next day and the day after. He begged for food and ate whatever he got. After a couple of months, he stopped and stayed at a temple, which needed a helper for its daily chores. After the journey all alone, he was a transformed boy now. He enjoyed the job and sincerely devoted himself to the deity and the temple. Over a period of a few months, he became the first assistant to the temple priest.
The priest collected all the offerings from the donation box and reported the donations to the temple’s trustees. These funds were used to maintain the temple. On one such occasion, Swaminathan saw the process of the donation box being opened. The priest told the boy to hand over half the money to the trustees and keep the rest aside. To keep his dishonesty as a secret, the priest offered Rs. 10 to Swaminathan.
This greed shocked Swaminathan, that too from a temple priest! His conscience could not accept it and he left for an unknown destiny.
Once again, he started walking. He chanced upon the preaching of a spiritual leader. Swaminathan was impressed with his discourse and sought to offer his services and accept him as his Guru. He stayed with the Guru. One late evening, he found the Guru in a compromising position with a lady devotee. That was the last time he saw his Guru. He left the temple.
After that, he didn’t stay at any one place for too long. Right now, he was in Rishikesh. By June that year, he wanted to reach Badrinath on foot.
Two orange sheets of cloth are good enough for him to cover himself. A plastic sheet converted from woven cement bags serves as his bed. His long, braided bushy hair form his pillow. Someone or the other offers him food on the roadsides of holy towns. Cash alms from the visitors to the town is good enough for him to buy his daily intake of ganja, a habit which he never disowned.
Once he reaches Rishikesh anyway, he doesn’t need cash for ganja. Ganja plants are found in abundance in the forests right up to Badrinath. It would not only be enough for his day-to-day consumption right now, but could also be stored for future use after drying.
Swaminathan has been roaming around the country for over forty years now. He has never considered going back home. He is happy and has no regrets in life!
“What keeps you happy?” was my question. “No material wants,” was the reply.
- Experienced and written by: Badri Baldawa
- Edited by : Meeta Kabra