Last year, during a sadhu feeding that we were doing on Arunachala’s Pradakshina Road, we discovered that there were about 20 aged and disabled sadhus living quietly near the road. They occupied two buildings, one a well-built government building, and the other, a flimsy shelter made of bamboo poles and coconut leaf thatching which leaked water badly when it rained. These aged sadhus were not getting food regularly, and other than the daily assistance from two younger sadhus, there was little help for them.
Here is the government building:
And the thatched hut.
Sadhus are seen by many, including myself, as making a real contribution to us all by their extreme spiritual quest. They have renounced family, home, job, wealth, everything. They live each day on what comes to them, on acts of God, and of kind people. I don’t think there is any support from the Indian government, and there seems to be little support from the local temples, some of which are wealthy.
I asked a small nonprofit charitable organization, the Quality of Life Trust, if they wanted to help. They have stepped up and started providing regular daily food for the 20 disabled sadhus, thanks to donations received from readers of this blog, and others who want to help.
We got enough money from the donations that we were going to rebuild that shelter. We made plans for a cement floor, and got quotes for a good metal roof. Before we started construction, we talked among ourselves, and to the sadhus that were helping. We were not sure that we would be allowed to make a new structure here. It was temple land, controlled first by the Arunachaleswara Temple, then finally by the government. The local government at this time had a big campaign against unauthorized buildings, and had been going around Pradakshina Road tearing these structures down. We were concerned that unless we got permission, that any new structure would be destroyed by the government. We finally decided that we should see if we could get permission from the chief officer of the district, the Tiruvannamalai District Collector, Anshul Mishra (He was the Collector at that time. He was later transferred to Madurai District).
I drew up a plan for his approval, and called to set up a meeting. I had met him earlier in the year. We had talked and I thought he would remember me. When I called, he did remember me, and we set up a meeting. Dhakshinamoorthy of the Quality of Life Trust and two other Trust members accompanied me to the meeting. The Collector’s office was a big room with a desk at one end. In front of the desk were maybe 50 seats, almost like an auditorium. We sat and waited our turn. I was impressed by the pace of the work and meetings we saw conducted. I felt like Collector Mishra was a skilled and intelligent administrator. He is an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer, and these are highly qualified and all have top scores on their examinations.
Then it was our turn. I introduced us and the Quality of Life Trust. I described the problem with the sadhus, and presented him with our plan for approval. We got an immediate and definite answer: “No. We will not allow additional buildings to be built on this government land.” We talked more and were told to see if perhaps there were empty government buildings that could be used for the purpose, and then to set up another meeting with him.
We were at a standstill. We could do nothing now to help these sadhus and the rainy season was coming. We felt like we could not even rebuild the thatched structure with the answer we got. So we did the best we could, and got big pieces of plastic sheeting (old “hordings” – billboards – which are printed on wide rolls of plastic) and used this to make a watertight roof. We also saw that several of the sadhus who were bedridden were living in beds that were falling apart. So we got them new beds. We also thought that maybe we could wait a few months and then maybe rebuild the thatched hut. So we did what we could, and went into wait mode.
Then a few months later I saw construction going on in the area. I did not give it much thought for a while, but then went for a closer look. And I found this building:
It was early December. The thatch building had just been taken down and there are sadhus living in the new structure now.
A better building was made than we had planned on, with walls and windows. This is so much better for the sadhus who live here.
I wanted to write about this, to let the readers know that conditions were better now for these disable sadhus. I wanted to give credit to those who did the work, too. So I started to investigate. I found someone who knew about the work. I was told that it was done by an Indian man who has very good relations with the Arunachaleswara Temple. He apparently heard about what happened and decided to step in. He had the money to build the building, and the ability to easily get permission from the temple. So now, with his help, these disabled sadhus have a new home.
I then found out that the donor wanted to remain anonymous. I want to give him our thanks anyway. Sometimes the generosity that I see touches me deeply. This is one such case.
Since I took the photos above, some additional finishing work has been done. There are now steel doors and window coverings (to keep out the rain and wind). This building houses about half the aged sadhus, the ones that are the most disabled. The photo below is the view from Pradakshina Road.
The other half of the elderly sadhus live here, in the building on the left.
So now conditions are better than they were for these sadhus last year. They have waterproof housing, regular food, and access to medical care as needed.
Even with the generous donation of the new building, there is still no other regular support for these sadhus. The Quality of Life Trust continues to provide daily food. The funds received last year have kept the feeding program going since then. The problem is that the Quality of Life Trust has run out of money for the feedings. More donations are urgently needed, especially ongoing ones. The Trust spends about Rs 50,000 each month feeding and caring for these sadhus and for the small old folks’ home they operate that houses and feeds another ten old people who have been abandoned by their families (a common problem in India).
If you wish to donate, and you are in India, follow the instructions on the Trust website, here. Outside of India, the easiest way to to send money via Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will make sure that the funds get in the right hands. Any donation will help, and will be well used by the Trust. Ongoing donations, something each month, are especially needed. Please help if you can.