Pushkar, a small holy city in Rajasthan, is situated around 10 km northwest of Ajmer. The word 'Pushkar' means lotus — a flower that is said to be the seat of Brahma, part of the holy trinity of Hinduism.


Although Brahma is considered to be the creator of the world in Hinduism, Pushkar has the only temple dedicated to this deity, worldwide. Pushkar is also considered as 'Adi Teerth' or 'Teertharaj', meaning 'an ancient holy place' or 'the most important of holy places', respectively.


Pushkar has a special significance for me, so much so that I've made an annual visit for the past five years. Having travelled to Varanasi, the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, and having met, spoken and spent time with sadhus and saadhvis, my trip to Pushkar this year was still particularly memorable.


During my last trip, I happened to meet various Naga sadhus and a saadhvi at Tarani Ghat. Rani Devi, a saadhvi and devotee of Shiva made the decision to renounce the world at the age of nine. She believes that everything in the material world is temporary and fake, except God.


The only way to escape the endless cycle of birth and death is to follow a path of detachment and acceptance, Rani Devi told me. “Iss duniya mein sab kuch moh-maya hai,” she averred. The disciple must not only learn to stand apart and hold herself free, but also learn to cultivate the attitude of an onlooker and silent observer.


The ‘Naga Babas’ or ‘Naga Sadhus’ (literally meaning ‘Naked Yogis’) are a part of the Shaivite sadhus' sect. Their physical appearance — ash-covered bodies and matted dreadlocks resembling Lord Shiva — owes to being Shaivites (followers of Lord Shiva). They take vows of celibacy, renounce societal norms, and live in the Himalayas. Taking control of their basic instincts by stripping down to the flesh, with the ability to stay in frigid temperatures without cover, make the Naga Babas a highly respected group of sadhus.


A Naga Sadhu does not become a sadhu overnight. He has to go through various stages, from initiation to renunciation. Rani Devi's conversations gave me the insight that one of the most valuable tools for a disciple is the path of detachment, impersonality and acceptance.


The disciple must not only learn to stand free of what he is trying to create, but also learn to cultivate the attitude of the silent observer; mental detachment will enable him to obtain a calm and impersonal view of that which he wishes to accomplish.


Kedargiri Baba, a 100-year-old Naga Sadhu, told me that the sadhus are constantly on pilgrimage, travelling long distances across India. Their orange clothing symbolises renunciation of the commitments of ‘normal’ life, he said.


Their belongings are stripped down to the bare essentials (though carrying a metal rod or spear as a devotional object like Kedargiri Baba does, seems to go against the idea of travelling light). There are other recognisable signs of a Naga Sadhu: long hair in dreadlocks, wound around the top of the head.


The ashram that Rani Devi took me to was a three-storey building with a courtyard. The view was beautiful, and peaceful: I could see all the Ghats.


Generally, visitors aren’t allowed inside the ashram, but as I was with Rani Devi, I was allowed to accompany her. I met sadhus who had come from all parts of India for the Pushkar Mela. I also happened to meet one of the youngest sadhus among those gathered, who was barely 15 years old.


Most of the Naga Sadhus enter the order in their early teens, leaving their friends and families to immerse themselves in meditation, yoga and religious rituals. It can take years to be conferred the title of a Naga, they say.


"One has to live a life of celibacy for six years," said Digambar Kedar Giri, a Naga Sadhu from Jaipur. "After that the person is given the title of a great man. And 12 years after that, he is made a Naga."