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Sadhus go on rampage

Hundreds of armed and dreadlocked saints charge into the crowds at Ardh Kumbh, reports Amitava Sanyal.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2007 03:31 IST

Hundreds of armed, besmeared and dreadlocked sadhus from Juna — the largest of the six Naga akharas at the Ardh Kumbh — charged into the crowds on Monday morning after a dip in the Sangam. They pushed aside members of the administration, ransacked the flower counter and broke a photographer’s camera. Some even started parading their martial skills with swords and spears.

Further trouble was averted when some of the sadhus themselves controlled the wayward flock and guided them back to camp. All this while, lakhs of people and a well-staffed police contingent looked on haplessly.

“It is because I sent men to control them that nothing more happened,” Uma Shankar Bharti, president of the Juna Akhara, told HT. “There could have been bloodshed before the procession to the Sangam... Avahani, one of the akharas affiliated to us, wanted a separate bathing slot. How can we break from tradition? So they were barred.”

Collector PR Misra, also the head of the mela administration, said: “When they fight, it is mostly for bathing rights. The matter (of bathing separately) had gone to the high court, which left it to the administration. I know there are a lot of things going on in the akharas but I cannot intervene in their internal affairs.”

It is not for nothing that everyone wants to steer clear of the sadhus. Raised by Adi Shankaracharya more than a millennium ago as an army to protect a weakened religion, the sadhus never gave up their creed. If people went to them, it was for serving their own purposes. Their martial skills were sought by kings down the ages.

“Nagas used to be in charge of the Kumbh administration up to the time of Prithviraj Chauhan,” said Govindanand Brahmachari, secretary, Agni Akhara. India’s independence struggle, too, features the saint-warriors. William R Pinch, associate professor at Wesleyan University, has pointed out that they were among the instigators of the 1857 uprising in Meerut. At the 1920 Nagpur Congress session, Gandhi exhorted them to go around cantonments of the colonial army and ask Indians there not to use salt. “Gandhiji had said around the time of independence that the Congress should be disbanded since it had served its purpose. Maybe it is time we thought the same about the Nagas,” said Brahmachari.

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First Published: Jan 16, 2007 03:31 IST