In the minds of most people there is a certain vision of saints as some ideal people who don’t possess any of the weaknesses that other people have. But when you get a chance to live with actual saints you start to realize that in some way they are still a bit like regular people. The difference appears when you stop judging them from the point of view of general morale. But if you look through a magnifying glass soon you’ll see that they actually don’t exist in any tradition or religion.
This is a story about Shiva Giri Bike Baba with whom I spent almost three years with only short breaks in communication.
BabA (with an emphasis on the last A) is the hindu name for sadhu or wandering ascets, who by common people are considered saints. They are respected, sometimes even feared as they are believed to possess supernatural powers. The sadhus have their own spiritual orders and communities many of which are centuries old. The story goes that a famous Indian philosopher and prophet Adi Shankaracharya who lived in the 8th century AD organized the numerous ascets wandering around India into 10 monastic (religious) orders. The largest of them are Giri, Puri, Sarasvati and some smaller ones still exist and prosper today. When someone wants to become a sadhu he can be accepted into one of those orders, renounce their life in the world, leave their family, their work and house and do the special practice that his Guru assigns to him – mantras, rituals etc. At this point he also receives his spiritual name which includes the name of his order. Bike Baba’s order name was Giri, and the name Bike simply appeared because he loved traveling around India on his motorcycle…
Bike Baba wakes up at 4am in the Rajahmundry town of Andhra Pradesh state. His mother was originally from this town and a member of a family we’re currently staying with. Or should I begin my story like this: after 40 years of searching for her son Shankara, who disappeared in Varanasi at the age of 20, she finally found him in Kathmandu with long breads and as the head of an ashram he founded and where he feeds hundreds of pilgrims every day.
It is 2014 and Shiva Giri’s mother passed away last year. A year after she found her son. The first thing Guru orders me to do at 4am is to turn on Bob Marli’s song ‘Ganja, ganja” and prepare the chillum. Later the song is playing, the chillum is being smoked and the house inhabitants slowly start to wake up and soon the traditional morning milk tea will be served. The early visitors start to arrive to bow to Bike Baba. Guru is attending to his usual duties - he is talking to people, looking at them, embracing them and chanting his mantras. This is what he does from morning to evening with short brakes to smoke his chillum or nap. It is hard work to sit like that all day so sometimes he jumps to his feet and runs to see how things are going in the kitchen or on the construction of his mother’s tomb.
Out of respect to his mother’s family we go to a secret room or hide behind the temple to smoke another chillum. For the same reason he doesn’t drink whisky here. His strict sister and a whole block of other relatives live here. They are a wealthy Indian family which he abandoned as a young man.
Although when he is in Kathmandu and has a long line of visitors Baba can easily finish two bottles of whisky with water though the day. He admits “I am a drunk and if it bothers you just find your way out.” But this doesn’t affect the number of his daily visitors. Of course there are occasional hypocrites who turn around and leave but he is not bothered by them. He cares about the ones who stay and those are the people who need his help. And he gives them his blessing, heals and embraces them. Most of his visitors are middle aged women though there are some young girls or old ladies. There are also men with rough faces and children whose eyes are lined with black henna. All of them seek help from this whisky drinking, cigarette and chillum smoking old man who has dreadlocks in his hair and beard…
At the same time this man organizes life of Annapurna Bhandara ashram which is a home to twenty homeless boys; a free motel for travelers who can’t afford or don’t wish to stay in a guesthouse; a free dining room, a temple and psychiatric hospital all in one.
How can one not start drinking and smoking when he is doing so much? And all this time you thought that yoga was just performing a headstand? Yoga is the art of controlling your mind. It is being able to manage an ashram, feed, heal and teach meditation after drinking a bottle of whiskey.
It happened so that I had three trips with this yogi named Shiva Giri and nicknamed Bike Baba and two of those were spontaneous. Meaning that just a couple of days before the trip he simply offered me to join him for a car road trip.
I need to clarify that normally yogis travel a lot. But it is mostly on foot or by train or bus. And years ago Bike Baba also walked all around India. He did it for the first time when he decided to become a disciple of his Guru Lakshman Giri, who he met at the age of 20 when he got lost during a tour around Varanasi. It is a very common thing in India to make pilgrimages. And the young Shankar, a son of a railway engineer, went on one with some neighbors from his block. They booked an entire train carriage for this pilgrimage. But a job in a shop did not satisfy young Shankar and he never got on his return train from Varanasi. Instead he became a disciple of a yogi who he recognized to be his Guru. His friends spent two days looking for him but with no luck.
A photo of Bike Baba aged 19. Hyderabad, India
Lakshman Giri said that he would only make Shankar his apprentice on one condition that he would go on a journey around India and return to him in two years. And on this journey he was not allowed to ask for anything from people. Shankar agreed. His Guru gave him 2 Indian rupees…
Yoga is becoming very popular today. But what is yoga, if most yogis don’t do the physical exercises that are known as YOGA in the western world?
Shiva and Shakti – a symbolic portrait of the two universal forces whose union creates the Universe.
I was lucky to travel around India in a car with a true yogi, a naked ascetic who walks around with no clothes on, dressed only in ashes and sometimes a loincloth. And I found out that “Yoga no need”.
Bike Baba said this at Kumbha Mela (a great sadhu festival) to a Russian film crew that was asking questions about “true yoga”. Those tourists with a camera were taken aback. They were surprised to hear those words from an Indian ascetic wearing a rudraksha and a loincloth.
Why did you say that to those people? His disciples asked the Baba later. And he replied “Look at those people. They are telling everyone that they practice yoga. But they are so full of ego and self concern. It means their yoga is not working. There is no need for that kind of yoga.”
Well what do you need then?
It all started in Allahabad in 2013. And around the time when a meteorite fell near Chelyabinsk, the city where I spent the previous year as I was born in that part of South Ural.
Even though I was not there when a meteorite fell I believe that the consequences of that impact led me to meet Shiva Giri.
I think that my Guru himself resembles a meteorite in his impetuosity. After sitting in one place for awhile he can jump up to his feet and suddenly appear somewhere none expected him to be.
First trip with Bike Baba finished in Delhi.
When he first asked whether I wanted to join him on a jeep trip to Kanyakumari he didn’t clarify when exactly that trip would take place. Everyone was just waiting for him to announce the start and in about three days he ordered us to go. Whoever wasn’t ready simple couldn’t join us. That time everyone was ready. There were five of us in the car and as soon as next morning something broke down in the gearbox and we had to look for a mechanic. Later I found out that the car we were driving would break every 1-3 days. If it didn’t break today the chances were high that it would break tomorrow.
To be fair I have to say that on many occasions that jeep helped us stay safe. Sometimes the breaks would stop working but luckily that never happened on Nepalese mountain roads cause then we’d just collapse into abyss.
When the car broke down sometimes we’d have to wait for help for several days. That gave me an opportunity to observe the life f a non-tourist India.
I saw very few traffic lights in India. But I have really good memory about one of them. We were driving into Bangalore which is considered to be the high tech capital of India and there was one traffic light on the exit from an overpass road. The light was red and there was a long line of motorcycles and cars in front of us. At this point we realized that our breaks were not working. So we had to brake with our engine. I was in the back seat and quite quickly realized what was coming so I jumped out of the car into the road. I was lucky that the car’s speed was low at that moment.
Amazingly we managed to not kill or injure anyone. One motorcyclist was kicked out of his seat. He did a forward flip and landed safely with just a slight bruise. He turned out to be great man and a professional sculptor. He was to make the least fuss unlike the other participants of the crash. The others required lots of settling. I still don’t know how but we managed to make them calm down. I know that in India for a car crash like that people can punish you at the spot without a proper trial or police investigation. Tourists arriving to Goa are always warned about that. But we were lucky and we ended up in a police station where we refunded the drivers of injured car and motorcycles. The sum was about 150 euro. I m still grateful to police officers and God Shiva, who seems to be watching over my guru Shiva Giri.
After spending our last money to fix the brakes we continued our journey to Kanyakumari. We were 500 km away.
Actually my Guru became known as Bike Baba after he obtained his Honda Hero motorcycle in early 90s. That’s when he started travelling about India on a bike. Usually with no money... Where would he get money? He was unemployed and didn’t have a business.
Two Honda Hero motorcycles in Bike Baba ashram in Kanyakumari. Both not functioning.
But it turned out that he did have a job after all. His job was rendering magical services to population. Because a yogi can cure an illness with just one touch or take all negative energy from someone by simply smoking a joint. He can rub ashes and give his blessing or provide energy for undertaking a new enterprise. There is power in ashes. That’s why babas cover themselves in it and give it to others. There is a belief which I have not checked that if you keep covering your skin with ashes for 10 years you’ll become a saint.
Bike Baba at work
In this manner every year he travelled on his bike from Kathmandu, Nepal to the southernmost point of India the city of Kanyakumari four thousand kilometers each way.
On the road the local population supplied him with food and gasoline; the police officers could offer him a gift of ganja as a sign of special respect and a request of his blessing.
Now Bike Baba stopped travelling by motorcicle as he very much enjoys company, and whenever he was on a bike he was alone. Except for the one time when Italian documentary film makers followed him and later made a film about him. For about 8 years he’s been traveling on his Willis which is now over 60 years old. So the Baba and the bike are the same age like twin brothers. None knows Bike Baba’s exact age and he jokes that he is 14 years old. In the different IDs that I’ve seen he had different dates of birth. But I think he’s a bit over sixty. Unless he is around 600 years old. In India everything is possible.
Our Good Mood Wagon at the head of the group of newly accepted monks is moving through crowds of pilgrims into our camp at the Kumbhamela festival in Ujjain in 2016
Public transport in Ujjain
Shiva Giri is minding his own business in his jeep and here comes lord Krishna on his motorcycle…
At the Kubhamela festival our brakes broke again and the safest solution at that moment was to crash into a truck that was parked at the curb. Very soon five naked Babas arrived to our rescue on their old orange Ambassador and the issue of compensation for the truck damage was resolved. They also towed our car away.
Whenever someone asks what do you need to live the life of guru master of the Avana Akhara order Shiva Giri Naga Baba Ji maharaja, he always replies: «Need only heart». All you need is heart. And to understand that you need to wander around India for several years with no money and without asking for anything from the people. “They will offer and they will provide everything”. Then it will become practical knowledge. Or Yoga.
Wherever he can Bike Baba organizes a free feeding centre for the poor. And the Kubhamela festival offers perfect conditions for that as we have our own camp with a transportable kitchen and volunteer cooks and also plenty of needing people who come day and night.
Bike Baba is not the only yogi who travels around India on his baba-mobil.
Here is Raja Giri who arrived in his vintage Mahindra Ambassador with a propeller.
Bike Baba left his physical body 1 March 2017 around 6pm in Kathmandu (Nepal). He is buried in Annapurna ashram.
Autor Alexey Pivovarov (Moon Giri)
Translation by Elena Karmaz