Essay On Sadhus

Not to be confused with Sadu.

For the 1994 film, see Sadhu (film).

A sadhu (IAST: sādhu (male), sādhvī (female)), also spelled saddhu, is a religious ascetic, mendicant (monk) or any holy person in Hinduism and Jainism who has renounced the worldly life.[1][3] They are sometimes alternatively referred to as sannyasi or vairagi.[1]

It literally means one who practises a ″sadhana″ or keenly follows a path of spiritual discipline.[4] Although the vast majority of sādhus are yogīs, not all yogīs are sādhus. The sādhu is solely dedicated to achieving mokṣa (liberation), the fourth and final aśrama (stage of life), through meditation and contemplation of Brahman. Sādhus often wear simple clothing, such saffron-coloured clothing in Hinduism, white or nothing in Jainism, symbolising their sannyāsa (renunciation of worldly possessions). A female mendicant in Hinduism and Jainism is often called a sadhvi, or in some texts as aryika.[3]


The term sadhu (Sanskrit: साधु) appears in Rigveda and Atharvaveda where it means "straight, right, leading straight to goal", according to Monier Monier-Williams.[5][note 1] In the Brahmanas layer of Vedic literature, the term connotes someone who is "well disposed, kind, willing, effective or efficient, peaceful, secure, good, virtuous, honourable, righteous, noble" depending on the context.[5] In the Hindu Epics, the term implies someone who is a "saint, sage, seer, holy man, virtuous, chaste, honest or right".[5]

The Sanskrit terms sādhu ("good man") and sādhvī ("good woman") refer to renouncers who have chosen to live lives apart from or on the edges of society to focus on their own spiritual practices.[6]

The words come from the root sādh, which means "reach one's goal", "make straight", or "gain power over".[7] The same root is used in the word sādhanā, which means "spiritual practice". It literally means one who practises a ″sadhana″ or a path of spiritual discipline.[4]

Demographics and lifestyle[edit]

There are 4 to 5 million sadhus in India today and they are widely respected for their holiness.[8] It is also thought that the austere practices of the sadhus help to burn off their karma and that of the community at large. Thus seen as benefiting society, sadhus are supported by donations from many people. However, reverence of sadhus is by no means universal in India. For example, Nath yogi sadhus have been viewed with a certain degree of suspicion particularly amongst the urban populations of India, but they have been revered and are popular in rural India.[9][10]

There are naked (digambara, or "sky-clad") sadhus who wear their hair in thick dreadlocks called jata. Sadhus engage in a wide variety of religious practices. Some practice asceticism and solitary meditation, while others prefer group praying, chanting or meditating. They typically live a simple lifestyle, have very few or no possessions, survive by food and drinks from leftovers that they beg for or is donated by others. Many sadhus have rules for alms collection, and do not visit the same place twice on different days to avoid bothering the residents. They generally walk or travel over distant places, homeless, visiting temples and pilgrimage centers as a part of their spiritual practice.[11][12] Celibacy is common, but some sects experiment with consensual tantric sex as a part of their practice. Sex is viewed by them as a transcendence from a personal, intimate act to something impersonal and ascetic.[13]

Sadhu sects[edit]


Shaiva sadhus are renunciates devoted to Shiva, and Vaishnava sadhus are renouncers devoted to Vishnu (or his avatar like Rama or Krishna). The Vaishnava sadhus are sometimes referred to as vairagis.[1] Less numerous are Shakta sadhus, who are devoted to Shakti. Within these general divisions are numerous sects and subsects, reflecting different lineages and philosophical schools and traditions (often referred to as "sampradayas").

Within the Shaiva sadhus are many subgroups. Most Shaiva sadhus wear a Tripundra mark on their forehead, dress in saffron, red or orange color clothes, and live a monastic life. Some sadhus such as the Aghori share the practices of ancient Kapalikas, where they beg with a skull, smeared their body with ashes from the cremation ground, and experiment with substances or practices that are generally abhorred by society.[14][15]

The Dashanami Sampradaya sadhus belong to the Smarta Tradition. They are said to have been formed by the philosopher and renunciant Adi Shankara, believed to have lived in the 8th century CE, though the full history of the sect's formation is not clear. Among them are the Naga subgroups, naked sadhu known for carrying weapons like tridents, swords, canes, and spears. Said to have once functioned as an armed order to protect Hindus from the Mughal rulers, they were involved in a number of military defence campaigns.[16][17] Generally in the ambit of non-violence at present, some sections are known to practice wrestling and martial arts. Their retreats are still called chhaavni or armed camps, and mock duels are still sometimes held between them.

Female sadhus (sadhvis) exist in many sects. In many cases, the women that take to the life of renunciation are widows, and these types of sadhvis often live secluded lives in ascetic compounds. Sadhvis are sometimes regarded by some as manifestations or forms of the Goddess, or Devi, and are honoured as such. There have been a number of charismatic sadhvis that have risen to fame as religious teachers in contemporary India—e.g., Anandamayi Ma, Sarada Devi, Mata Amritanandamayi, and Karunamayi.[18]


The Jain community is traditionally discussed in its texts with four terms: sadhu (monks), sadhvi or aryika (nuns), sravaka (laymen householders) and sravika (laywomen householders). As in Hinduism and Buddhism, the Jain householders support the monastic community. The sadhus and sadhvis are intertwined with the Jain lay society, perform Murtipuja (Jina idol worship) and lead festive rituals, and they are organized in a strongly hierarchical monastic structure.[19] They were a part of Dumont's theory on social stratification, but according to John Cort, the empirical data refutes Dumont thesis.[19] There are differences between the Digambara and Svetambara sadhus and sadhvi traditions.[19]

The Digambara sadhus own no clothes as a part of their interpretation of Five vows, and they live their ascetic austere lives in nakedness. The Digambara sadhvis wear white clothes. The Svetambara sadhus and sadhvis both wear white clothes. According to a 2009 publication by Harvey J. Sindima, Jain monastic community had 6,000 sadhvis of which less than 100 belong to the Digambara tradition and rest to Svetambara.[20]

Becoming a sadhu[edit]

The processes and rituals of becoming a sadhu vary with sect; in almost all sects, a sadhu is initiated by a guru, who bestows upon the initiate a new name, as well as a mantra, (or sacred sound or phrase), which is generally known only to the sadhu and the guru and may be repeated by the initiate as part of meditative practice.

Becoming a sadhu is a path followed by millions. It is supposed to be the fourth phase in a Hindu's life, after studies, being a father and a pilgrim, but for most it is not a practical option. For a person to become sadhu needs vairagya. Vairagya means desire to achieve something by leaving the world (cutting familial, societal and earthly attachments).[citation needed]

A person who wants to become sadhu must first seek a guru. There, he or she must perform 'guruseva' which means service. The guru decides whether the person is eligible to take sannyasa by observing the sisya (the person who wants to become a sadhu or sanyasi). If the person is eligible, guru upadesa (which means teachings) is done. Only then, the person transforms into sanyasi or sadhu. There are different types of sanyasis in India who follow different sampradya. But, all sadhus have a common goal: attaining moksha (liberation).[citation needed]

Festive gatherings[edit]

Kumbh Mela, a mass-gathering of sadhus from all parts of India, takes place every three years at one of four points along sacred rivers in India, including the holy River Ganges. In 2007 it was held in Nasik, Maharashtra. Peter Owen-Jones filmed one episode of "Extreme Pilgrim" there during this event. It took place again in Haridwar in 2010.[21] Sadhus of all sects join in this reunion. Millions of non-sadhu pilgrims also attend the festivals, and the Kumbh Mela is the largest gathering of human beings for a single religious purpose on the planet; the most recent Kumbh Mela started on 14 January 2013, at Allahabad.[citation needed] At the festival, sadhus appear in large numbers, including those "completely naked with ash-smeared bodies, [who] sprint into the chilly waters for a dip at the crack of dawn".[22]

  • Sadhu
  • A sadhu in Kathmandu, Nepal

  • Sadhu in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh

  • Sadhu by the Ghats on the Ganges

  • Sadhus at Kathmandu Durbar Square

  • Sadhvi or female Sadhu at the Gangasagar Fair transit camp, Kolkata.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ abcBrian Duignan, Sadhu and swami, Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ abKlaus K. Klostermaier (2007). A Survey of Hinduism: Third Edition. State University of New York Press. p. 299. ISBN 978-0-7914-7082-4. 
  3. ^ ab″Autobiography of an Yogi″, Yogananda, Paramhamsa,Jaico Publishing House, 127, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Bombay Fort Road, Bombay (Mumbai) - 400 0023 (ed.1997) p.16
  4. ^ abcSadhu, Monier Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary with Etymology, Oxford University Press, page 1201
  5. ^Flood, Gavin. An introduction to Hinduism. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996) p. 92. ISBN 0-521-43878-0
  6. ^Arthur Anthony Macdonell. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. p. 346.
  7. ^Dolf Hartsuiker. Sadhus and Yogis of India.
  8. ^White, David Gordon (2012), The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, University of Chicago Press, pp. 7–8 
  9. ^David N. Lorenzen and Adrián Muñoz (2012), Yogi Heroes and Poets: Histories and Legends of the Naths, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-1438438900, pages x-xi
  10. ^M Khandelwal (2003), Women in Ochre Robes: Gendering Hindu Renunciation, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791459225, pages 24-29
  11. ^Mariasusai Dhavamony (2002), Hindu-Christian Dialogue: Theological Soundings and Perspectives, ISBN 978-9042015104, pages 97-98
  12. ^Gavin Flood (2005), The Ascetic Self: Subjectivity, Memory and Tradition, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521604017, Chapter 4 with pages 105-107 in particular
  13. ^Gavin Flood (2008). The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. John Wiley & Sons, pp. 212–213, ISBN 978-0-470-99868-7
  14. ^David N. Lorenzen (1972). The Kāpālikas and Kālāmukhas: Two Lost Śaivite Sects. University of California Press, pp. 4-16, ISBN 978-0-520-01842-6
  15. ^1953: 116; cf. also Farquhar 1925; J. Ghose 1930; Lorenzen 1978
  16. ^"The Wrestler's Body". Retrieved 29 March 2012. 
  17. ^"Home - Amma Sri Karunamayi". Retrieved 20 April 2015. 
  18. ^ abcCort, John E. (1991). "The Svetambar Murtipujak Jain Mendicant". Man. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 26 (4): 651–671. doi:10.2307/2803774. 
  19. ^Harvey J. Sindima (2009). Introduction to Religious Studies. University Press of America. pp. 100–101. ISBN 978-0-7618-4762-5. 
  20. ^Yardley, Jim; Kumar, Hari (14 April 2010). "Taking a Sacred Plunge, One Wave of Humanity at a Time". New York Times. Retrieved 24 November 2010. 
  21. ^Pandey, Geeta (14 January 2013). "Kumbh Mela: 'Eight million' bathers on first day of festival". BBC News. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Jaini, Padmanabh S. (1991), Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-06820-3 
  • Indian Sadhus, by Govind Sadashiv Ghurye, L. N. Chapekar. Published by Popular Prakashan, 1964.
  • Sadhus of India: The Sociological View, by Bansi Dhar Tripathi. Published by Popular Prakashan, 1978.
  • The Sadhu: A Study in Mysticism and Practical Religion, by Burnett Hillman Streeter, Aiyadurai Jesudasen Appasamy. Published by Mittal, 1987. ISBN 0-8364-2097-7.
  • The Way of the Vaishnava Sages: A Medieval Story of South Indian Sadhus : Based on the Sanskrit Notes of Vishnu-Vijay Swami, by N. S. Narasimha, Rāmānanda, Vishnu-Vijay. Published by University Press of America, 1987. ISBN 0-8191-6061-X.
  • Sadhus: The Holy Men of India, by Rajesh Bedi. Published by Entourage Pub, 1993. ISBN 81-7107-021-3.
  • Sadhus: Holy Men of India, by Dolf Hartsuiker. Published by Thames & Hudson, 1993. ISBN 0-500-27735-4.
  • The Sadhus and Indian Civilisation, by Vijay Prakash Sharma. Published by Anmol Publications PVT. LTD., 1998. ISBN 81-261-0108-3.
  • Women in Ochre Robes: Gendering Hindu Renunciation, by Meena Khandelwal. Published by State University of New York Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7914-5922-5.
  • Wandering with Sadhus: Ascetics in the Hindu Himalayas, Sondra L. Hausner, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-253-21949-7
  • Naked in Ashes, Paradise Filmworks International – Documentary on Naga Sadhus of Northern India.

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sadhus.
A female sadhvi with a Vishnu mark on her forehead
  1. ^See for example:
    अग्ने विश्वेभिः स्वनीक देवैरूर्णावन्तं प्रथमः सीद योनिम् । कुलायिनं घृतवन्तं सवित्रे यज्ञं नय यजमानाय साधु ॥१६॥ – Rigveda 6.15.16 (Rigveda Hymn सूक्तं ६.१५, Wikisource)
    प्र यज्ञ एतु हेत्वो न सप्तिरुद्यच्छध्वं समनसो घृताचीः । स्तृणीत बर्हिरध्वराय साधूर्ध्वा शोचींषि देवयून्यस्थुः ॥२॥ – Rigveda 7.43.2 (Rigveda Hymn सूक्तं ७.४३, Wikisource)
    यथाहान्यनुपूर्वं भवन्ति यथ ऋतव ऋतुभिर्यन्ति साधु । यथा न पूर्वमपरो जहात्येवा धातरायूंषि कल्पयैषाम् ॥५॥ – Rigveda 10.18.5 (Rigveda Hymn सूक्तं १०.१८, Wikisource), etc.

“The Parable of the Sadhu” is a story about the trip of McCoy and a group of other international individuals hiking through Nepal, and the ethical dilemma they encountered that made McCoy think about individual and corporate responsibility. After the sadhu, who was suffering from exhaustion and hypothermia, was dumped at the feet of the travelers, they all decided to proceed with their journey to the mountain summit, leaving the stranger behind with food and clothes in the middle of nowhere, despite the fact that he was sick. Evidently, nobody was willing to accept full responsibility for the stranger, but each of them did their best as long as it did not inconvenience them. Apparently, an individual’s efforts, however well-intentioned they are, cannot succeed without the support of the group. This essay analyses the persuasive strategies McCoy uses to put his point across effectively, including the purpose and audience of his message and the topic of the article. The strategies include appeals to the audience via rhetorical elements such as ethos, pathos, logos, as well as the literary devices used in the article.

The main topic in “The Parable of the Sadhu” is the breakdown between individual ethics and corporate responsibility (104), and the need for corporations to develop cultures that support individual values and success of the whole group (108).

The main purpose of the article is to persuade the readers to uphold their individual moral ethics by always doing the right things irrespective of whoever is in need of their help. By means of narration, the author presents to the reader a story of a sick sadhu who requires care and attention, yet the travelers just help him partially and continue their journey leaving him lying in the sun far away from the closest village. The fact that the writer presents a common story that the reader can relate to his personal experience, makes the story more intimate and interesting to read. Another purpose of the article is to challenge organizations to adopt a culture of openness and support for individual needs and values for the benefit and success of the whole group as put forward in this statement: “It is the management's challenge to be sensitive to individual needs, to shape them, to direct and focus them for the benefit of the group as a whole” (109).

The main audience of the article is corporations, including their executives and employees. This is evident in McCoy’s statement when he said, “How the group responded I think holds a lesson for all organizations no matter how defined” (102). The author challenges corporations to develop a value system that supports the needs and values of their individual employees, and acts as a guide when faced with ethical dilemmas such as the one presented in the story.

McCoy manages to make the reader believe in the content of his article via his ethical appeal (ethos). The author’s vast experience in corporate leadership and management, which he gained as an investment banker at Motgan Stanley, lecturer of ethics and finance at Stanford, UCLA among other universities, as well as being the previous chairman of Stanciford's Center for Economic Policy, makes him very credible and worth the reader’s respect because of the background information concerning the topic he has.. Throughout the story, the writer presents McCoy as a compassionate person, who feels sorry for not helping the sadhu. As a result, this makes McCoy a likable character to the reader.

The author manages to appeal to the reader’s emotions through narrating the story in a personal way, coupled with a series of questions that invoke the reader’s imagination, sympathies and concern. For instance, when describing the sadhu he said, “. . . the almost naked, barefoot body of an Indian holy man - a Sadhu. . . the pilgrim lying on the ice, shivering and suffering from hypothermia” (103). From the description one cannot help but feel sorry for the half-naked and barefoot sick man lying on the ice.

The author effectively conveys his message to the reader via his clear and consistent claims and the way he supports them with logical reasoning. For example, when he asked why Stephen with his strong morals did not choose to provide personal care to the sadhu, he replied that it was partially because Stephen was physically exhausted and lacked the support of the other group members, making the task fall behind his individual capability (108). McCoy’s reasoning makes sense to the reader, making his message believable.

The sadhu has been used in the article to symbolize everybody who is in need of help. In our everyday life, we encounter several sadhus who require our assistance. McCoy asked, “Should we stop what we are doing and comfort them; or should we keep trudging up toward the high pass? (109).

The name Stephen has been repeated countless times throughout the article - an indication that he is the main character in the story, the one with the strongest moral vision among all the characters.

The article “The Parable of the Sadhu” is a story of McCoy’s 60-day journey to the Himalayan Mountains with his colleagues and the ethical dilemma they faced in the course of their trip. The main issue discussed in this article is the author’s persuasive strategies which include appeals to the audience, such as ethos, pathos, logos, as well as the literary devices i.e. symbolism, repetition etc. The author challenges organizations to develop value systems that support individual values and provide direction to their employees for the benefit of the whole company.

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