Ascetics of India

Devaha_Baba

Source : Google photo of Deoraha Baba

Synopsis : We see and hear of people who dedicate their life to God and voluntarily choose the hard life of an ascetic . They are found in all religions but in India such spiritual people are called sadhus by the Hindus. The blog looks at the extraordinary life of such a spiritual person called Deoraha Baba who had a great impact on millions of people called his devotees.

An ascetic is a highly spiritual person who has renounced all worldly comforts and lives the life of penance and sacrifice. He finds joy in his penance and sacrifice and lives anywhere that suits his fancy as a wandering sadhu. The word sadhu means a moral and a good person who lives by the grace of God and does not worry where he will sleep or where he will find food. He finds shelter in ruins of old places or sleeps under a tree where people leave some food for him. Often he goes without food but does not beg or complain because he is a sadhu who dedicates his life to God and believes in Him to take care of him.

In India you will notice numerous sadhus in saffron or white robes who have long matted hair piled on top of their head and long beard and mustache because they do not cut their hair once they renounce the world and its comforts. They do not talk of their past life although many were employed and lived comfortably somewhere but one day they decide to become a sadhu and just leave, never to keep any link with anyone.

Asceticism is a religious tradition among Hindus but you will find them in all major religions. They may go to extreme length to separate themselves from the common people so you will find them in remote mountains or caves or in famous religious pilgrimage sites all over the country. It was the practice of kings or queens in the past to build huge resting places called Dharma Shalas meaning religious dormitories where any passing sadhu could stay for free. They also stay at some temples where they are welcome to stay for a few days at their rest houses and get free food every day.

But the life of a sadhu is at best very uncertain and full of self deprivation that they willingly accept as their way of life. People give them alms and seek their blessings. My Ma never turned away a sadhu from our gate and always gave some food or money to them and received their blessings.

 

Source : U tube video on Deoraha baba

But today I will write about an extraordinary sadhu called Deoraha Baba who lived in North India that all people came to know as a sadhu who performed miracles, who only took some milk and honey to survive and wore only a loin cloth even in the freezing winter. He lived in a grass hut that his followers built for him  8 feet off the ground from where he received his followers and gave them his blessings.

What will surprise you is the long list of who were his ardent followers. It included King George the V, Dr.Rajendra Prasad, the president of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru as well as his father Moti Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajeev Gandhi, Prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Sampurna Nand, Sanjay Gandhi and numerous others. What attracted them to this sadhu who gave them advice and touched their head by his feet as blessing?

Dr. Rajendra Prasad said the once he had visited this sadhu with his father when he was just a child and was amazed that the sadhu called Deoraha Baba looked just the same seventy years years later. If King George V came to see him in 1910 then it was some 110 years ago but how come the sadhu looked the same as ever? No one knew his real age, his provenance and who was his guru. My Ma used to say that she saw him once as a child and many years later he still looked the same as before. He had no wrinkles or other signs of ageing except his white hair and beard. A judge in Prayagraj said that 7 generations in his family visited Deoraha Baba to seek his blessings.

He had a huge following  because people were attracted to him because of his high level of spiritually. He made predictions about many things that came to be true later on. When Indira Gandhi went to see him to seek his blessings and advice after her defeat in the election, he said that she will win big the next time so she formed a new party called Indira Congress and used the raised palm of the sadhu as the symbol of her new party. She won the election and regained her Prime ministership.

There was an incident when Rajeev Gandhi was to visit the saint so some preparations were made in Prayagraj that included cutting down a tree near the abode of Deoraha Baba. He objected because he said that tree was his companion so it should be spared.When the workers insisted on cutting down the tree, the Baba said that he will cancel the visit of the Prime Minister. Soon the word came from Delhi that Rajeev had indeed cancelled his trip.  People said that the Baba could read the minds of people and could communicate with anyone no matter where he lived. I am not alluding to the internet and e mail.

Those who were his followers sat on the ground while he gave them blessings and often threw some fruits or food to them that he seemed to conjure out of thin air that was nothing short of miraculous. People said that the sadhu could be seen at different places at the same time meaning he was capable of teleporting himself and he could submerge in the Yamuna river for more than 30 minutes at a time showing extraordinary abilities.

India is full of such great people who are of highly spiritual nature. Who has not heard of Swami Vivekananda or Shri RamaKrishna Dev ? Many people choose the life of an ascetic sadhu wandering from one holy place to another in search of spirituality and often find a guru in the mountains. Some join groups of sadhus who live together in large numbers in some place but once every 12th year they congregate at Prayagraj ( formerly called Allahabad ) to participate in the world’s largest religious fair held there.  Deoraha Baba said that he attended 12 such fairs meaning 144 years so how was that possible ? How old was he? Some said that he was over 200 years old but is that physically possible?  He himself accounted for over 144 years plus whatever his age was then.

His famous prediction that came to be true was about the establishment of the Ram temple in Ayodhya that the Prime Minister Modi will lay the foundation of on August 5, 2020 fulfilling the wishes of millions of Hindus in India and abroad. Deoraha Baba had predicted it many years ago and said that all the difficulties will disappear and people of all faiths will build the temple together as a symbol of unity in India. It will be one of the grandest temples in India that will put Ayodhya firmly on the map. It will be developed as a major pilgrimage as well as a tourist site with new airport, new infrastructure and new water front.

I am often amazed by the spiritual people who seem to be a class apart . There was such a spiritual man in my home town who once told my Ma that I was safe in Saigon during the Tet offensive and I was with two white Americans but how did he know ? It was true that I was safe and with two Americans but how did this man know it in India? These are the mysteries to which it is hard to find an answer but I have met such mysterious people who seem to have special powers.

The story of Deoraha Baba is extraordinary even among the spiritual people of whom even the King of England had heard of and went to see him. There must have been something extraordinary in him that attracted the dignitaries seeking his blessings.

In my last blog I wrote about another spiritual person who in just 12 years set up the  ISKCON worldwide promoting the teachings of Krishna through the Geeta. His followers have established numerous majestic temples of ISKCON in numerous countries so take a look at that blog to read more. ( A man with a vision )

Deoraha Baba himself did not want anything , did not preach or promote Hinduism or establish a worldwide movement like the Pravupada . He was content to meditate most of his time, ate practically nothing, wore only a loin cloth or deer skin and lived in a grass hut from where he blessed his followers . He gave his message of love and tolerance towards each other and said that love for the humanity is the only way forward.

Blessed is such sadhu and blessed is the country that produces such sadhus. India is called the land of spirituality that has given the world Geeta , Vedas and Upanishads that are a treasure trove of wisdom and high philosophy. This alone makes India unique.

 

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A man with a vision

800px-Iskcon_Delhi_Temple

Source : Google photo of the ISKCON temple in Delhi

Synopsis : A great spiritual movement of Krishna Consciousness was born in the United Sates when an old and humble monk arrived there in 1966 chanting his hymns in the Central Park of New York. It has now become a worldwide phenomenon the blog explains. The monk’s charisma and simple message endures long after his death.

International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), known colloquially as the Hare Krishna movement or Hare Krishnas, is a Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindu religious organisation. ISKCON was founded in 1966 in New York City by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Prabhupada singing (Germany 1974).jpg

Source : Google photo of  Swami  Vaktivedanta Prabhupada

In 1966 , a humble old man who had renounced his worldly life to become a wandering monk to spread the essence of Hinduism found in Geeta arrived in New York by ship that had given him a free passage with his few pathetic luggage and just a few dollars in his pocket. He had taken up a challenge that very few people would ever dare to accept but he had faith in himself to do the impossible. But at first he had doubts about his abilities and sought spiritual guidance from Krishna in the following words:
 
I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me. But I guess You have some business here, otherwise why would You bring me to this terrible place? How will I make them understand this message of Krishna consciousness? I am very unfortunate, unqualified and most fallen. Therefore I am seeking Your benediction so that I can convince them, for I am powerless to do so on my own.
 
 
He used to sit in the Central Park in New York chanting religious hymns with his cymbals that attracted some attention from the passerby’s who were intrigued by this old man in saffron robe sitting alone and just chanting something they could not understand but felt an attraction to him and sat down to listen. They were young men and women , white and black who were called hippies in those days who were opposed to the war in Vietnam and looking for a guide who could deliver them from the morass of despair, hopelessness and directionless life.
 
They were young and were willing to listen to anyone who could lead them to a better life full of hope and aspirations. They were not at first interested in their spiritual upliftment because many were prone to atheism although raised as Christians . They were looking for an alternative to what they were doing living the life of hippies so at first they sat down to listen to the old man and his message.
 
The old man explained to them in good English the essence of Geeta and how it can impact anyone’s life if only one could accept the wise words of Krishna explained in Geeta. These kids had never heard of Krishna and Geeta let alone anything about India. So they came everyday to listen and sing along with the old man with his cymbals. They brought along others so a crowd developed around this man that kept on growing. They liked his message and started to take him seriously now.
 
They started collecting some money to feed the old man who taught them how to cook delicious simple vegetarian food that they all shared and enjoyed. Little by little , his followers increased in number until it spread to many countries that has not stopped.
This was the start of the Krishna Consciousness Movement that grew to be a major development in the whole world to bring the words of Krishna through Geeta to millions of followers that included the Fords, The Beatles and other celebrities later.
 
The growth of this movement in the short span of 12 years in the United States was nothing short of phenomenal. It was the first time an old monk in saffron robe was able to touch the heart of millions with his message since Swami Vivekananda . It was as if he brought water to their parched hearts that made them bloom into the green paradise.
 
He did it through his prolific writings that was one of his great achievements.

Bhaktivedanta Swami’s most significant contribution is considered to be his books.[58][59] During the final twelve years of his life, Bhaktivedanta Swami translated over sixty volumes of classic Vedic scriptures (such as the Bhagavad GitaChaitanya Charitamritaand the Srimad Bhagavatam) into the English language.[48]

For their authority, depth and clarity, his books have won praise from professors at colleges and universities like Harvard, Oxford, Cornell, Columbia, Syracuse, Oberlin, and Edinburgh,[60] and his Bhagavad-gītā As It Is was published by Macmillan Publishers in 1968 with an unabridged edition in 1972.[61][62][63]

The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust was established in 1972 to publish his works, and it has also published his multi-volume biography, Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, that according to Larry Shinn, will “certainly be one of the most complete records of the life and work of any modern religious figure”.[2][64] Prabhupada reminded his devotees before his death that he would live forever in his books, and through them would remain present as a spiritual master or guru.[65] Bhaktivedanta Swami had instilled in his followers an understanding of the importance of writing and publishing not only with regard to his works, but also their own initiatives. His early disciples felt Prabhupada had given them Back To Godhead for their own writings from the very start.[65]( Wikipedia)

You may have seen his followers in various airports in the United States and other countries selling the books published by the Vaktivedanta Book Trust and printed in Los Angeles. I have bought some myself in Miami once. It is now available in over sixty languages around the world and some other books by Bhaktivedanta Swami are available in over eighty different languages.[26][50] In February 2014, ISKCON’s news agency reported to have reached a milestone of distributing over half a billion books authored by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, since 1965.

The Prime Minsiter Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee said the following glowing words praising the Krishna Consciousness movement worldwide :

If today the Bhagavad Gita is printed in millions of copies in scores of Indian languages and distributed in all nooks and corners of the world, the credit for this great sacred service goes chiefly to ISKCON. … For this one accomplishment alone, Indians should be eternally grateful to the devoted spiritual army of Swami Prabhupada’s followers. The voyage of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to the United States in 1965 and the spectacular popularity his movement gained in a very short spell of twelve years must be regarded as one of the greatest spiritual events of the century.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee – 5 April 1998
Prime minister of India

 

Srila Prabhupada Room at Radha Damodar Mandir in Vrindavan

Source : Wikipedia  shows the effigy in the place of rest in Vrindavan of thne founder of ISKCON  Shri Prabhupada

Source : Wikipedia  shows his place of rest in Vrindavan, U.P. India

Over the following years his continuing leadership role took him around the world several times setting up temples and communities on other continents.[45] By the time of his death in Vrindavan in 1977, ISKCON had become an internationally known expression of Vaishnavism.[22]

In the twelve years from his arrival in New York until his final days, he:

  • circled the globe fourteen times on lecture tours that took him to six continents[45]
  • initiated many disciples, awarding sannyasa initiations[46]
  • introduced Vedic gurukul education to a Western audience[47]
  • directed the founding of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust,[48] which claims[49][50] to be the world’s largest publisher of ancient and classical Vaishnava religious texts
  • founded the religious colony New Vrindavan in West Virginia,[51]
  • authored more than eighty books (with many available online[52]) on Vedantic philosophy, religion, literature and culture (including four published originally in Bengali)[45][50]
  • introduced international celebrations such as Jagannatha processions[45]
  • watched ISKCON grow to more than 108 temples, various institutes, and farm communities. Later they would build more than 600 temples worldwide.

I have seen the phenomenal growth of the movement worldwide that continues to spread to more and more countries . You see them chanting and dancing in the streets of New York to Moscow and in major cities of the world where people watch them with curiosity . These followers are black, white and all other shades in between who find happiness and a purpose in their life for the first time when they join the movement.

They have built massive and very ornate temples in many countries starting in the United States and India that number in more than a hundred so far and have plans to build more in many more countries.

I have included some videos of their major temples in the USA and India here so that you can see how beautiful they are. The architecture and the concept is truly amazing that will impress anyone visiting them.

1.Krishna temple in Virginia, USA

Source : U tube video ISKCON temple in Virginia, USA

2 Krishna temple in Mayapur, India

Source : U tube video of ISKCON temple in Mayapur, Bengal, India

3. Krishna temple in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India

Source : U tube video of the ISKCON temple in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India

4. Planned ISKCON temple complex in Kanpur, India

Source : U tube video of the planned complex of ISKCON temple in Kanpur, India

Source : Wikipedia photo of the ISKCON temple in Tirupathi , India