Bam Shankar!


(Leonid Plotkin – Sadu Sorcerer)

A sadhu strolling towards me along the burning ghats at Varanasi had his eyes lowered. His matted dreadlocks were  piled up high on the top of his head, and he wore the usual paraphernalia of beads and colourful scarves, and he carried a trichur and a pot. Just as we passed each other  he opened his eyes and looked into mine, and the fierce, otherworldly intensity of his look rooted me instantly to the spot. I have never seen anything like that. Such a laser beam. After he had left me stunned, I wondered about the state of consciousness of a being that could give them such an electromagnetic charge.


(Smoking Sadhu by Hofiak)

We walked with sadhus often in the mountains. They were emaciated men, carrying almost no possessions,  with mere rags to cover their bodies.   They sang hymns, or chanted, or beat drums as they walked, or scurried past in utter silence. At night, they stretched out in make-shift shelters or in the open air, and we stayed with them. Sometimes we slept on sheets of corrugated iron to keep us up off the ground, away from the snakes and bugs,  or else we stayed in three-sided grass huts, or in the ruins of ancient temples, among strewn boulders and blocks, or in caves, or in dharmsalas that crawled with beetles and enormous cockroaches and that vibrated with the hundreds of  lives that had passed through their doors. We cooked meals in the same pots with the sadhus and shared chillums. I was always being asked for medicine and so eventually I bought and carried with me a large tub of antiseptic cream. In the evenings, when everyone was rested and the sun was setting,  I went around the gathering and rubbed ointment into their various wounds and gashes.


(Trek to Gaumukh – Nick Fleming)

There was a joke we used to share that if you noticed a cloud of smoke above the forest canopy then most likely there was a crew of ”Italian Babas” gathered below. Those guys smoked ferociously. They wore the sadhu gear and were often rude and arrogant and spat out a chillum and declared its contents to be ”Dandana”, which means bad medicine. The native sadhus laughed at them and moved on.

They smoked, those sadhus, to keep warm in freezing temperatures high in the mountains, when they had only a single cloth between their skin and the elements. They smoked to curb their appetites and their sensual desires. Above all, however, they smoked to remain in communion with Shiva, to whom they constantly chanted and called out their adorations. Shiva’s many names were the most common sounds around their fires. ”Bam Shankar” they roared, as they touched the chillum to their forehead before drawing deeply. Theirs was a ritualistic way, the damping of the chillum cloth, the blessing of the ganja, the prayers before and during smoking, the inward journey afterwards under the light of the stars and the moon.


(Sadhu – Gael Metroz)

We had another little joke. One of the names of Shiva sounded to our ears like John Delaney, an Irish name. So sometimes we would shout ”Shambo, John Delaney!” in their company. This started a trend and all the sadhus would call out that name as they smoked. Because we met the same  troops over many months, the clarion call to John Delaney began turning up again and again at many fireside meetings, so that it took on a life of its own; a meme that crept through the wild Himalayas. We often wondered if some guy called John Delaney back home, some random dude, was feeling the effects of this chant and the intoxication, in some homely living room, in some ordinary village, in Ireland. If so, we hope he enjoyed it!

There were the bone sadhus, who were naked and skeletal, and who spoke in weird, high, sing-song voices, and who were sometimes avoided by the others, but who seemed harmless to my mind. There was a bell-ringing melée one night when we all pulled the ropes on the scores of bells hung in an archway outside a cave where a large carving of Durga danced on the stony wall. The Goddess was painted red and strewn with dried flowers. Beside us, a cataract of water fell forty feet in a roar that almost drowned out the frenzied jangle of the bells. The sadhus clapped and sang and stomped and roared and the bells clanged so loudly that the sound was incredible, and eventually drove us back to gasp in hallucinogenic wonder  at the edge of the cataract.


(Sadhu Bathing – Tom Clarke)

One sadhu gifted me a stone that he told me had been whispered up from the depths of Lake Manosrovar at the base of Mount Kailash. It was a small, black, pyramid-shaped stone that could fit in the palm of my hand. The stone’s surface felt  like satin. With his scrawny finger the sadhu traced the outline of the ”snake” in the stone, a narrow fossil of some ancient coiling worm, that he said was the mark of Shiva. That stone sits now on my window sill, always in front of me while I’m washing the dishes, and the words ‘whisper’ and ‘Kailash’ sail through my mind when I see it.

At the source of the Ganges, at Gaumukh, where in the late 80’s the glacier had not yet retreated and the river still gushed powerfully from an ice cave and was airborne for scores of feet before finally touching the earth in a furious rush on a narrow plateau, we stayed overnight in a room with a hundred sadhus. It was a dark, stone, empty dormitory cut into the side of the mountain, and was unspeakably cold. We piled in like sardines, and lay down on the floor between the smoky blankets that were given to us. A young sadhu sat cross-legged beside me. He was naked, except for a gold chain around his waist. His eyes were slanted and his cheek bones were high, so that he looked like a beautiful Mongolian. He   spent a long time covering his whole body in bhasma, or sacred ash, so that he became a white ghost when he was finished. The ash filtered down in a mist and covered my blanket. Then, suddenly, he sprang up in one jump and ran soundlessly outside, and by the gleam of the full moon I saw him splashing about in the newly-born Ganges. It was snowing and he glowed in the light. When he returned his skin radiated an intense warmth and he was completely dry. He proceeded to cover himself in bhasma yet again. This went on all night, and I drifted in and out of sleep with him beside me.


(Sadhu from Niranjani – Nick Fleming )

In the morning, we climbed the final stretch to the source. The water was freezing and I could only tolerate it briefly on my bare feet. So I bundled up and found a flat boulder nearby and sat cross-legged watching a handful of sadhus play about in the water. My eyes closed and my knees gradually sank down so that I sat for the first time in full lotus. My breathing became slow and restful. There were no thoughts at all. There was only the sound of the gush of the sacred river. Suddenly the sun crested the ridge of the dark mountain before me and filled my forehead with such an intensity of light that my whole body felt like bursting. This light bore into me for what felt like an age, filling all of the space defined by my skin, and there was neither future nor past, no need for doing or not-doing, no ambition, no needs, no desires. Just being. A luminous speck on the roof of the world. All that existed was the infinite now, and that now was eternally good. Afterwards, there came the wave of bliss.





Generally just Being. Nothing in particular, no claims to fame. I like gardening and the sea, nature, art in all forms from poetry to films and everything in between, and being in the company of my family.

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''I am all pervasive. I am without any attributes, and without any form. I have neither attachment to the world, nor to liberation. I have no wishes for anything because I am everything, everywhere, every time, always in equilibrium. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, Shiva, love and pure consciousness.''
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