Prayagraj: For some sadhus gathered at Sangam, the tolerance of differences and diversity is a central tenant of Hindu faith. But only a few would understand the power of acceptance more than Shravan Giri. After all, the Australian man stands out among the rest of his family. But looking different from other sadhus is not an impediment for Giri, who has found among these ascetics a family for himself.
Giri first came to India in 1998 and knew almost instantly that he wanted to follow a new path. Recollecting his journey, he says: “Twenty-one years ago, I was brought to India from Australia. I was taken to Mount Girnar in Gujarat. There, I had a darshan of Lord Dattatreya, which changed my mind completely. I began searching for a Guru. Found a Guru in the Himalayas and became a part of the Juna Akhara. I had sanyas sanskar (initiation ceremony for Sadhus) at Ujjain in 2003. This is my fourth time at Allahabad Kumbh mela and my 10th Kumbh mela altogether.”
The light-skinned sadhu claims he doesn’t remember his Australian name. “In another life, I had other names. I was reborn here, sanyas sanskar is like a rebirth. You rise from the fire, covered in ashes, no hair, like a new-born baby. I have forgotten my old name. Do you remember your name from your past life? I’ve chosen to forget. I have those memories, but I’ve left those behind.”
The Juna Akhara, of which Giri is a part, is the largest and one of the fiercest of the 13 Akharas that make up the Naga Sadhu Army — an ancient order of warrior monks. Giri spends most of his time in his small ‘kutir’ (sadhu’s hut) in Melbourne, but during a Kumbh year, he spends months in India among his “Gurubhais”. He says he now has a “family” of Sadhus in India where he finds material and spiritual support. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
Initially, complexion was an obstacle of him to be accepted in the akhara. “In my Sadhu family, I found open arms. In the akhara, it took some time. As people got to know me, they accepted me. There are not too many foreigners in akharas, so some sadhus were not so friendly. Now everyone knows me, everyone is friendly.”
Giri has a word of advice for first-time visitors to Kumbh. When approaching Sadhus, respect the rules of the akhara. “If you approach a Sadhu, do so with the invocation of the chant ‘Om Namo Narayana’! They will instantly open up to you. If you follow the basic rules of respect, they are very accepting. It’s also easy for people to offend sadhus. The most sacred thing is the fire. Most people think, “oh I can throw rubbish in the fire. I can sit with my back to the fire.” These things matter to sadhus,” he informed.