Holiness Holiness is still common in India. In most Hindu households, shops and businesses are altars and shrines, and the day is routinely started with the worship of gods and gurus. Many mountains, rivers, stones and trees are sacred. Dozens of cities are holy and, of course, the millions of temples and idols. Quite a few animals are holy — the cow, of course, but also the bull, the monkey, the elephant, the peacock, the snake, the rat.... So it may come as no surprise that people can be holy too, though they have to become holy. The Indian concept of holiness is quite different from that in the West. It is not necessarily (though often) associated with the "good." In fact, some all-India saints, such as Ramakrishna or Chaitanya, would probably be considered lunatics in the West. There is a long tradition of 'divine madness' in Hinduism. To Hindus, spiritual enlightenment has always represented the highest goal in life, the one thing that gives it meaning and purpose. Moreover, enlightenment is a state of being that is in principle attainable by everybody. The average individual, however, would need many incarnations to become enlightened, to see God, to become one with the Absolute, to merge one's mind with Cosmic Consciousness — in short, to become holy. Naga babas during a procession at the 1989 Kumbha Mela in Allahabad Since time immemorial shortcuts have been available for people wanting to become enlightened in this life rather than the next. Those who follow the fast track, mostly men, are the sadhus, the 'holy men' of India. For thousands of years they have been around. Once they must have been more numerous, but even today there are still four to five million sadhus, constituting about half a percent of the total population. Organised in various sects, they passed on the wisdom of old, the method of yoga, that is 'yoking' soul and Soul together. Usually they live by themselves, on the fringes of society, and spend their days in devotion to their chosen deity. Enlightenment Some perform magical rituals to make contact with the gods, others practise intense forms of yoga and meditation to increase their spiritual powers and acquire mystical knowledge. Certainly, not all sadhus are enlightened. But believers regard them all as holy anyway, if only because of their radical commitment. And successful sadhus are even worshipped as 'gods on earth'. Believers only have to 'behold' a sadhu — as a kind of living idol — to receive a spark of his spiritual energy. They give donations to the sadhus — regarded as offerings to the gods — and get their blessing in return. Thus, since time immemorial, has Indian society been organised to support the holy men, for they are not supposed to work. But in India too, the times they are a'changing.
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