Much is made of renunciation in India. It is extolled as the highest virtue. But watching on TV the multitude of sadhus that had gathered at the Ardh-Kumbh Mela, a thought that kept nagging my mind was: do such people, who renounce their wives and children for personal salvation, really deserve it?
Noted Hindi poet Maithili Sharan Gupt poignantly expressed the pain of Yashodhara, the forsaken wife of Siddhartha by way of a poem. In it, Yashodhara laments to a friend, “Sakhi, Ve mujh se kah kar jaate.” (O friend, he should have told me that he was leaving). The thought that troubles her is that Sidhhartha saw her as an obstacle in his path and robbed her of the opportunity to ennoble herself by gladly letting him go.
In a short story, Hindi writer Kamleshwar tells us about an old woman whose husband has become a sanyasi. This man of God has not only left his poor wife to fend for herself but, ironically, during his annual visits, he also expects her to follow his diktat on how to conduct herself in social matters.
Hindu scriptures recommend sanyas as the last stage of one’s life, when one has discharged one’s obligations to family and society. One of the great appeals and relevance of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata lies in the fact that Sri Rama and Sri Krishna performed great deeds while they were married.
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The same lesson can be learnt from the life of Prophet Mohammad. He not only married a widow himself but also allowed his followers to take up to four wives so that widows, whose number was large in Arabia due to incessant fighting, could be cared for.
Renunciation is clearly against the order of nature. It undermines the beautiful experience that life is. By escaping marriage, one does not cease to be dependent on society. The world laughs at a man who evades this important experience and hides from existence. But who will tell our sanyasis?