Rediff.com's Sanchari Bhattacharya and Reuben N V travelled to Haridwar to be a part of the world's largest religious gathering, where they met an unusual sadhu.
Thirty-two years ago, Sadhu Amar Bharati felt disenchanted and disillusioned at the fighting and anger in the world around him. He felt that it was time for him to do something about it. So he raised his right hand.
He has not lowered his hand even once since then, says Sadhu Amar Bharati Urdhavaahu, and explains that it was imperative for world peace. Some sadhus of his sect have adopted his credo -- they have also raised their right hand to protest against war and violence, and kept them raised for the last 25, 13 or seven years.
Sadhu Urdhavaahu is not easy to find among the crush of saints at the bustling Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. Among the row of tents occupied by the reclusive Naga Sadhus, he is tucked away in a corner. He is sitting next to a huge black-and-white photograph of a younger version of himself, where his arm is held high up in the air and he is surrounded by a bunch of foreign tourists.
When we asked him how his decision to raise his right arm would help the cause of world peace, Sadhu Urdhavaahu launched into a spirited discourse on the bitterness and strife in today's world, how humans are exterminating fellow humans and why it is crucial to live in peace and harmony.
"I am not asking for too much," he says. "Why do we fight among ourselves, why do we have so much hatred, enmity against each other?"
His right hand is an erect, sinewy, painfully bony structure, projecting at a strange angle from his shoulder, ending in thick, calloused nails that have contorted into ringlets.
How does he bear the excruciating pain, we inquire, and how does he manage to do all his routine chores with one hand?
"Pehle dard hota thaa, ab aadat ho gayi hai (It used to be painful, I have become used to it now)," he says nonchalantly.
Visibly irked by another query about his unique mission to usher in world peace, he muses, "I need money. Then I can go to the United States and get my hand fixed."
He became a sadhu at the tender age of 7 and has been one for 55 years. Like most holy men we met at the Kumbh Mela, he was reluctant to discuss the details of his purvashram (life before he took sanyas). "Main sadhu banna chahta tha, ban gaya (I wanted to become a saint, so I became one)," is all he is willing to divulge.
And though he refuses to tell us where he hails from, his eyes light up when we tell him that we have come all the way from Mumbai.
"Mumbai, Maharashtra? Marathi bolta yeta ka (Do you speak Marathi)," he asks in that lingo.
When we answer in the negative, he asks with perceptible mischief in his voice, "You stay in Maharashtra and you don't know Marathi? Haven't you heard about Bal Thackeray? Don't you know what he says about people who don't know Marathi?"
Sadhu Urdhavaahu is also quick to add a disclaimer, "I am not supporting what Bal Thackeray or people like him say. These people encourage feuds and battles within the nation. We can't keep bickering among ourselves, having wars within the nation."
He warms up to his theme as curious visitors gather around to listen, "We can't afford to have enemies inside the nation. If we can't control the enemies within, how will we ever fight external ones?"
As we walk away from Sadhu Urdhavaahu, leaving him ensconced within a circle of gawking devotees, his booming voice trails behind us, "I want all Indians to live in peace. I want the whole world to live in peace."
Photograph: Reuben NV