An Indian by birth, I have had been blessed by a lot of Sadhus before. But to be blessed by a Naga Sadhu (Naked priest covered in ashes) was an amazing experience.
This happened during my pilgrimage trip to Gangasagar Mela near Kolkata in West Bengal. This mela is one of the most famous fests. It is held in the month of January, on the GangaSagar Island at the confluence of the Ocean and the river Hooghly.
After a refreshing dip in the holy waters, as I was strolling leisurely in the market, I heard somebody calling me – o’ photographer saab, please come here. I found one scantily clad sadhu was signalling me to come near him. He was sitting in a small cubicle specially made for sadhus during the mela.
This one was a Naga Sadhu and this unique assemblage of Naga Sadhus here gives a unique identity to this festival. Hundreds of sadhus, some smeared with ash and some with vermillion and sandalwood paste, perform pujas and yagnas here for days. They spend their days smoking marijuana and they cover their bodies with ashes.
As I went to the cubicle of the Naga sadhu, he asked me to come closer in order to receive a blessing. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think of it. I’m a Hindu and I normally have been blessed by other sadhus but not by a NAGA sadhu. But there was something about the aura of the place, and I went over to him. He smiled, bowed his head and then painted an ash dot in my forehead and patted my head by a bunch of peacock feathers. He repeated patting 3-4times and then verbally blessed me, and said that it was ok with him if I wanted to photograph him.
That was it, and I clicked with my camera a few times.
After this he got up and offered me tea, and then went on to light a Chillum (may be Charas or hash or may be marijuana). Sadhus smoke this a lot because it is believed to be a gateway to Nirvana.
I said goodbye and went back to the ashram where I was staying. I kept thinking about what I’d seen and experienced. Meeting this Naga sadhu and getting a glimpse into his world was the ultimate highlight of the entire trip.