Sadhu - History and Cultural Relations

There are three major Hindu religious orders: the Vaishnava, the Shaiva, and the Shakta. Of these, the Shaiva sect seems to have the largest number of devotees. These have spawned numerous subdivisions. It is believed by some that Shaivism represents the original religious faith of India, already in place before the arrival of the Aryans. The orders are much splintered, the result being the current existence of numerous "sects." Some are orthodox while others are reformist or radical. The roots of Hindu asceticism may be traced to the fourfold division of life outlined in Vedic literature. These stages are: brahmacarin (the life of the pupil) ; grhastha (the life of the householder, which includes marriage, procreation, and the practice of a craft) ; vanaprastha (the life of the forest hermit, resorted to when the transitory nature of worldly pleasures is realized); and sannyasin (the life of the wandering beggar who has renounced all worldly ties). One may claim to be an ascetic without having passed through all of the aforementioned stages of life. In modern times some ascetics have chosen to continue in the marital state. This represents a departure from earlier practice.

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