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Indian monks bare all to find peace!

When he was 18, maths student Prayant Sagar discarded his blue jeans to listen to his "inner call" to become a naked Hindu monk and "find an ocean of peace

india Updated: Feb 14, 2006 21:41 IST

When he was 18, maths student Prayant Sagar discarded his blue jeans to listen to his "inner call" to become a naked Hindu monk and "find an ocean of peace".

Sagar has since graduated to the third and penultimate stage of becoming a Jain Digambar monk who live spartan lifestyles following strict non-violent and vegetarian principles.

"In life, different people achieve different things. Right from childhood I wanted to become a sage. I didn't want to be rich or famous," says Sagar. "I listened to my inner call, followed a dream and am close to realising it."

Sagar was among 200 monks attending the nine-day Mahamastaka Abhisheka (head anointment ceremony) in India's Karnataka state that began last week in this southern Indian town to honour their naked god Lord Bahubali.

Some three million devotees of the Jain sect were expected to turn up for the festival in which worshippers pour offerings such as milk, coconut water and turmeric over Bahubali's 57-foot (17.4-metre) high stone statue.

The sect emerged as a protest against the elaborate rituals of Hinduism. There are two sects of Jains -- the Digambaras, who are traditionally naked, and the Svetambaras who wear white clothes.

There are four stages to becoming a muni or full-fledged Digambar monk whose vows include fasting, begging, learning to endure bodily discomfort and meditation.

In the first stage, the monks wear white robes. In the second and third they wear loin cloths and in the last are naked."To find an ocean of peace, one has to renounce, respect and sacrifice. That is what this sect is all about," Sagar, clad in a loin cloth, tells AFP.

Sagar hails from a devout Hindu middle class family in the city of Indore in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. When he announced his intention to become a monk, "my mother and father did not stand in my way", he says.

The bachelor monks live life by a strict code. They do not smoke or consume alcohol, honey or certain fruits. They also eat no root vegetables.

"It's very hard," says Samiti Sagar Maharaj, 75, a former teacher who left his family a decade ago to become a Digambar.

"The central principles we follow are Jivadaya (respect for all living forms) and Ahimsa (non-violence). For this we do not walk on grass or light a fire. We're very careful when we walk so as not to hurt anything," he says.

"One can join at any time of life provided one sticks to the vows. I gave up my 'kingdom' a bit late," he says.

"Now I realise the moment you leave your material world one can attain peace. I do not visit any member of my family but they can come and meet me," he says.

The monks are so devoted to their credo of non-violence they often wear masks to cover their mouths to avoid killing insects they might inhale.

They hand pluck their hair from their heads as they do not go to barbers. They cannot have baths. Instead, they mop their bodies with a wet cloth to try to save small organisms living in water from being killed.

The followers live on a single meal taken standing before six at night and cannot use any transport. At night, they are forbidden to speak to anyone and spend time meditating and reading scriptures.

They walk barefoot carrying peacock feathers meant to sweep away organisms on the floor before they sit, a vessel of water and a begging bowl.

Two years ago, ex-garment trader Abhinandan Sagar joined the group of naked monks who number some 500 in India, according to sect's top spiritual leader Tarun Sagar.

"My wife left me. I was broken and then I took this decision to become a monk. I don't regret it a bit though I'm finding it a bit tough," he says.

Monk Sagar, the former maths student, says he does not worry about what people think of Digambars.

"You may see me as a naked man. But I see everyone, every living being in one colour. I see God in everyone," he says.

"You may call it (being naked) madness. But I'm not alone. I feel neither pain nor pleasure. I'm not attached to anything in this world."

First Published: Feb 14, 2006 21:00 IST