The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela

Tripoto
19th Feb 2013

My 'friend', the Naga sadhu

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

View of Kumbh Mela ground from Shastri Bridge

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

The early morning bath

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

'Gau Mata' waits for offerings

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

Langaar at one of the akharas

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

Playing God is not easy

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

Kumbh Mela ground

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

Baba has a tryst with his chillum

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

Devotees bathe in the evening

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

Ganga (front) clearly distinguishable from Jamuna at Sangam

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

Devotees wait to take the holy dip

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

Offerings by the Ganga

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela by The Compulsive Traveller

For any Indian traveller worth his or her backpack, a visit to the Kumbh Mela is a must on the bucket list. It is, of course, the grandest display of Hinduism and will bring you face to face with the multitudes from across the country, but it can also send you back with quirky and amusing experiences to share for a lifetime. If I remember only one thing about the 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela till the end of my life, it will be the encounter with the Naga sadhu who had brazenly asked for my gold ring.

I don’t know if he attended the recently concluded Kumbh Mela at Nashik — and what all he managed to wrest from devotees in the name of ‘dakshina’ — but he was there at the last Gangasagar Mela all right. My eyes had sought him out among the pictures filed by a photographer of the newspaper for which I was working then.

There was no mistaking my old ‘friend’ — ash-caked face, greyish-yellow beard and hair, with a hint of baldness at the front of the head, save for a clump that’s still left in the middle. And those bloodshot eyes! How could I ever forget them!

And he hadn’t lost his lust for the good things in life either. Unclothed as he was, there was a high-end headphone resting pretty on his ash-coated head. When I had met him in Allahabad, he had on sunglasses, a bracelet on one wrist and a couple of expensive watches on the other.

It was February 2013 and I was covering the Maha Kumbh with two other journalists and a journo-turned-PR agency owner. After we had all gathered material for our respective stories, we decided to go on a hunt for the Naga sadhus. After all, no trip — and no album — of Kumbh Mela can be complete without a photograph of the naked ascetics taking a holy dip or smoking pot.

When we finally reached the Junah Akharas — the camp of the Naga sadhus — it was well past 2pm. It was the fag end of Maha Kumbh and we feared to find it empty, but it was not. There were quite a few sadhus inside — walking around, chatting among themselves, sitting cross-legged on small makeshift stages…

Photo of The Naga sadhu who asked for my gold ring at the Kumbh Mela 1/1 by The Compulsive Traveller

After a brief encounter with a sadhu who was still clothed in a saffron robe — maybe he would renounce it in another few years — a fellow woman journalist and I strolled up to the Naga sadhu seated on the next podium. I wondered if he’d let me photograph him. After all, Naga sadhus are infamous for their temper. Besides, many are reputed to be dangerous criminals hiding from the law. I wondered what kind of ‘sadhu’ this one was.

One glance up close and I knew this was no ‘holy’ man. He had on all the ornaments as I have already described, was unclothed and to top it all, had an erection! We pretended to show respect and he patted us on the head with a peacock-feather fan. And, he gave us a smile that had nothing holy about it.

Slightly encouraged, I asked him why he had sunglasses on. “Why are you wearing glasses?” he asked me instead, the smile not leaving his face. “Because I’m short-sighted,” I replied. “Really?” he said. “Show me your glasses.” I obeyed.

He took off his sunglasses and that’s when I saw his eyes — small, cold and bloodshot. Seeing him put my glasses on, I said: “I have very high power. You won’t be able to see a thing.” He went ahead nonetheless and exclaimed, “That’s right, I can’t see a thing.” “Neither can I, without my glasses,” I said and asked him to hand them over. For a moment I feared he wouldn’t agree, but thankfully he did.

It’s highly likely that he wouldn’t have given my glasses back had they served his purpose. He was probably shortsighted, too. But thankfully, my power had been too high for him.

Now I asked him if I could photograph him. He immediately agreed. But the moment I was done he asked me what ‘dakshina’ I had for him. I took out a 10-rupee note from my purse, but he was furious.

“Put the money back. I don’t need money,” he thundered. I was wary at once. “What do you want then?” I asked. He pointed at the yellow sapphire-studded gold ring on my index finger, and said, “Give me that.”

I glanced in panic at the other journo, who looked much calmer. “How can she give you the ring babaji? We are students. Can she afford this? It’s a gift from her dad. He’ll be very angry with her. Do you want that?” she demanded.

I gulped. Students! By Indian standards, we had reached the age where our kids would be students!

Naga baba, however, was too angry to realise that. “I don’t know anything. You either give me that ring or I won’t have anything from you,” he barked. We were already crawling backwards by then and before he could say or do anything further, we jumped off the podium and fled as fast as we could.

2 Comment(s)
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In the end you were Anna Maria
Tue 05 31 16, 16:58 · Reply · Report
Hi, I had a similar experience. I was waved at and politely asked to take Baby ( as he preffered to be called) Naga Baba's blessings. But much to my dismay he put a little bhubhuti on my forehead and then ordered me to fetch him a pack of cigarettes!
Mon 09 28 15, 16:40 · Reply (1) · Report
Hi Rohit, nice to know you already had your tryst with Kumbh Mela. Hahaha...yeah I can well imagine that. Most of these people are obviously not sadhus and just showmen or even criminals. Some day I hope to have an encounter with a real sadhu though
Tue 09 29 15, 08:02 · Report