Beyond the 'holy' attire, umpteen number of followers and larger-than-life charisma, even sadhus in Uttar Pradesh, wield guns.
Hari Shankar Das, the priest of the famous Hanumangarhi temple in Ayodhya is just one of them.
A group of saffron-robed men encircle the septuagenarian priest as he moves out of his room to conduct the evening prayers.
He rubs vermilion on his forehead, puts a scarf on his shoulder and puts aside his revolver. It’s time for prayers and this perhaps is the only occasion when he parts with the weapon.
“On July 21, Swamiji was attacked by a group of sadhus led by Bhavnath Das and Ramesh Das,” says Balram Das, a trusted disciple of Hari Shankar Das.
“They opened indiscriminate fire when Swamiji wanted to construct a boundary wall around a piece of land a few yards from the temple. Though the police have arrested Ramesh, Bhavnath is still at large.
“He is looking for an opportunity to strike again,” adds Balram Das.
“I was a wrestler in the early 1970s and won the Bharat Kesari title after defeating some of the top national rank grapplers in the ring,” says the Ayodhya-born swami, offering an explanation for why he possesses a revolver.
“There have been attacks on my life several times in the past. The other saints have acquired arms, why shouldn’t I?”
In the temple city of Ayodhya several sadhus are armed with weapons, both legal and illegal, according to SHO Nirmal Dubey who also quickly adds that it’s difficult to take any action due to the political patronage the saints enjoy.
According to official data, there are 13,000 licensed weapons in Faizabad district of which Ayodhya, about eight kilometres away, accounts for 3,000.
Almost all sadhus have a licensed weapon. Here, the aroma of joss sticks and the scent of gun powder enjoy a cosy co-existence.