Sadhu - Orientation

Identification. The term sadhu is applied individually to any one of the millions of mendicant ascetics informally affiliated with the disparate Hindu religious orders of India. Most of these wandering holy persons are male, but women (called sadhvin, feminine of sadhu) are also represented in their ranks. At one time only Brahmans were able to be admitted to these ascetic orders. Later, admission was granted to Members of any caste. Sadhus are expected to adopt ascetic practices, observe certain religious regulations, and teach or render service to those in need. Their ascetic practices include the departure from family and home, the application of bodily markings often associated with a particular sect, the wearing of attire associated with a particular sect (or being Partially or totally naked), the growth of hair only on five important bodily parts (the head, upper jaw, chin, armpits, and pubic region) or the complete shaving of the body, the adoption of a mendicant or sedentary life-style, and the dependence on the goodness of others for daily survival. Their religious duties include acts of self-purification, worship, participation in religious discourses, the study of sacred Literature, and the making of pilgrimages. The consolation of those in distress, preaching and teaching of religious tenets, the granting of assistance to the poor, and the opening of schools and hospitals are examples of the services that sadhus are expected to render to the larger society. Sadhus are found throughout India and Nepal and are not confined to any particular geographical locale. It is believed that there are some 5 million or more ascetics affiliated with several thousand "schools" or sects of sadhus living in various parts of South Asia. As mendicants, they do not form distinct communities.

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