Sadhus are a common sight on the streets of India and Nepal, and a popular motif for tourist’s pictures. But who are these men?

The word “Sadhu” comes from the root “sadh”, which means “reach one’s goal” and refers to Hinduist wandering monks, living an ascetic life to focus on their spiritual practice. They have left behind all worldly attachments and live in caves, forests or temples. Their goal in life is to achieve enlightenment through meditation. Often Sadhus wear ochre coloured clothes, as the colour symbolizes renunciation.

Their practices to achieve enlightenment vary greatly. Some live alone in the mountains for many years, meditating, others smoke hash on their holy path or stand on one leg for several years, some carry swords, others not even clothes.

There are several million Sadhus just in India, they are widely respected and supported by donations from people. Being a Sadhu should be the fourth stage in every Hindu’s life: after being a student, father and pilgrim. Most, however, do not go for this option, only about half a percent of the total population. It is a very difficult lifestyle: A Sadhu is – seen legally – dead, which means they may have to attend their own ritual funeral before becoming a Sadhu after years of studying with a Guru.

Often they are asked to bless marriages, remove the evil eye, or benefit the community with their prayers. In some areas they are viewed with suspicion, and in some popular pilgrimage places non-devout beggars pose as Sadhus to earn their income.

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