Sadhu boy in Pashuaptinath in front of the Shiva temple
Becoming a sadhu is a path followed by few. It is supposed to be the fourth phase of a Brahman male Hindu’s life, after studies, being a father and a pilgrim, but for most it’s not a practical option. There are some who fake holy status to gain respect but they are often discovered by true sadhus.
Becoming a sadhu is a difficult lifestyle. Sadhus are considered to be dead unto themselves, and legally dead to the country of India. They may be required ritually to attend their own funeral before following a guru for many years, serving him by doing menial tasks until acquiring the necessary experience to leave his leadership.
While the life of renunciation is described as the fourth stage of life in the classical Sanskrit literature of the Hindu tradition, and the members of certain sects—particularly those dominated by initiates of brahmin background—have typically lived as householders and raised families before becoming sadhus, many sects are composed of men that have renounced early in life - often in their late teens or early 20s. In many cases, those who choose the sadhu life are fleeing from family or financial situations which they have found to be untenable.
The processes and rituals of becoming a sadhu vary with sect; in almost all sects, a sadhu is initiated by a guru, who bestows upon the initiate a new name, as well as a mantra, or sacred sound or phrase, which is generally known only to the sadhu and the guru and may be repeated by the initiate as part of meditative practice. The guru is an important figure in all ascetic traditions, often being equated with the Deity, and service of the guru, even in the most menial of forms, is considered an important form of spiritual practice.
The slide photo was shot during my tour in 1999 and scanned by a Nikon CoolScan 5000 ED from Kodachrome 100.