Sadhus of Arunachala: A Pictorial


The photos that follow are some that I have taken over the last five years of sadhus living near Arunachala, mostly along Pradakshina Road. I thought that these would be interesting to the readers of this blog. Many were taken during sadhu feedings, which we have been doing all during this time. For the most part I will make little commentary, and let the photos stand on their own. The photos are basically in chronological order, with the oldest first.

There are several hundred sadhus in Tiruvannamalai. I think about 200 live along Pradakshina Road. Sadhus have been attracted to Arunachala for hundreds, no, thousands of years.

Below is a photo of a photo. This is “Coconut Swami,” who was killed several years ago while he was, as usual, dancing his way around Arunachala. He was hit by a motorcycle. His Samadhi is near Pradakshina Road.


A swami meditates on Leopard Rock. This was taken from the Inner Path (while you could still walk this path, now closed due to fire danger).


Here is an old man. You will see him in some other photos further on, as he ages and his health deteriorates.


This is one of my swami “buddies,” Swami Annamalai. He wears 1008 Rudraksha beads.


Sadhu feeding.









Here is the old man again. By the time of this picture he could no longer walk by himself.


Swamis also officiate at many of the small shrines along the way. This one is offering a camphor light to the god.


Many sadhus sit by the road for hours each day.


Here is Swami Annalamai, during Deepam, walking behind a chariot.


A happy sadhu, reminds me of Hotai, the Laughing Buddha.

More sadhu feeding. Raam Kumar and Janani, the children of our friend Rajan, often help us distribute the food. Raam is seen in the photo below.





This sadhu is talking on his cell phone. I am not sure where this fits into the renunciation required of a sadhu.


Various sadhus.


This sadhu takes good care of his beard, keeping it in curls.


This sadhu, in white, assumed the special place in sadhu society that was previously held by the Coconut Swami.


At the Mahasamadi of A. Ramana, many sadhus were invited.



Some chanted an Arunachala song during the rituals.


This sadhu is mainly seen at Ramanasramam.



This sadhu is careful and well dressed.


After the ritual for A. Ramana, a special feeding was done for the sadhus.








At one point, flowers were placed on the head of each sadhu.



This sadhu blesses me after the meal.


We met this sadhu on the east side of Arunachala, near a small temple on the side of this hill, Madurai Veeran Koil.


He takes care of this Shakti shrine, a termite mound, on the side of Arunachala.


Sadhu meditating by the roadside.

For full moon nights, some sadhus gather in a group, chanting, asking for alms by the roadside.

This sadhu carries his begging bowl. Some do not take alms offerings into their hands, but rather they use bowls, or the cloth of their clothes.

Sadhu sitting by the entrance to the Children’s Park.


Sadhu praying at the Mariamman Shrine on Pradakshina Road.


More sadhu feeding. That is my grandson, James, giving out the food.



Sadhus sleep on benches by the road.




Here, Janani helping us out.






This sadhu wears a Santa Claus hat. It is Christmas time.





Swami Annamalai again, giving us a blessing.



This is a happy sadhu.



In contrast, the photo below shows Nityananda, who has a big ashram on Pradakshina road. This is part of his birthday celebration.


Here, dressed in his renunciate’s robes, he sits in front of thousands of people, on his golden throne, wearing a golden crown.


A simple sadhu sweeps by the road.


More sadhu feeding.


I like this guy’s hat!


And this sadhu’s sunglasses.





This sadhu was a constable before he took sanyatsin and became a sadhu.


Here are a few sadhus in the aged and disabled sadhus quarters.






These sadhus sleep on the walkway next to Pradakshina Road.




These sadhus interact with a monkey. Sadhus and monkeys, that’s what you see on this road. And shrines.


When you think about the life of a sadhu … this man has sitting beside him everything in the world that he owns. He can carry it all with him as he walks.


A group of sadhus near a chai stand. There are several of these stands that are gathering places for the sadhus. In the morning they will sit at the stand and read the newspaper.


Here is the old sadhu again, about five years after the first photo. Now he is confined to his bed in the aged and disabled sadhu home. He has dementia, and cannot be trusted to be safe, so they have him confined to his bed.


More sadhu feeding.








A renunciate on a motor scooter rides by. Some of these renunciates seem to own more than others.


Walking away from us is the man we call the ‘Blanket Swami.’ He is held in very high regard by many, will not take food or money when offered, will not speak, etc.

A reader says his name is Mukupoodi Swami – he goes on to say “glad he is… Have only once seen or had the darshan of one ‘contemporary’ great one here…he had a white dove on his shoulder, would not talk or take anything,or even look around him; he walked with the most astoundingly even stride.”


Maybe I will be able to write more about these sadhus. To me, they seem like very special people, like they are “spiritual warriors” for all mankind. One joy of my life is living near Pradakshina Road, and driving my scooter by these sadhus each day.

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34 Responses to “Sadhus of Arunachala: A Pictorial”

  1. SONAGIRI OM Sonagiriji Says:

    1008 thanks beloved divine brother for these holy pictures … This child is blessed ! Alsi I met many sadhus around and on ARUNACHALA … Hope to meet you during our next holy YATRA in south INDIA … See our programme on :
    If a sincere Seeker is interested , we have yet a seat …
    With Love , Pranams and blessings ,
    sonagiri from France

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      Thank you for your comment. I looked at the program for your yatra and it looks great. Anyone would be blessed to participate. During your time in Tiruvannamalai you will meet with Sri Ganeshian. He is a friend and I would love to join you for this meeting. If that is acceptable please let me know when and where.

      Blessings on your and all that join you.

      Om Namah Sivaya,


  2. Giovanni Dienstmann Says:

    Happy to see we are both on the same space.

    I have built an iPhone/iPad app about Annamalai Swami and would love to hear your thoughts on it. Check it out:

    Keep up the great blog! 🙂

  3. thalupularavi Says:

    Hi Richard, Do you have further information about “Mookupudi Swami”?

    In August 2013, I have visited Arunachal for Giri pradhakshina, from that day on wards, I’m unable to focus on my regular work.

    I Stays in Hyderabad, 720 KMs away from arunachal. But still I’m planning to do something for Sadhus. Please let me know, how can I help them.

    Ravi T
    Phone: 9052224291

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      I do not know Mookupudi Swami. The is one local trust that provides food for sadhus and some medical care. I can give you their bank info, donation deposts woulde go to good use. If you want I will send you information on them.

    • thalupularavi Says:

      Hi Richard, Thanks a lot for your quick response. I would be great if you can share the details of the trust.

      By the way, I recently came to know about “Kavya Kanta Ganapthi”, who is best friend for Bhagavan Sri Ramana maharshi. But I didn’t find any information about him in Arunachala.

      Do you know anything?

      Ravi T

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      Do not know. The expert of Ramana is David Godman, maybe he knows?

  4. cspacenz Says:

    @Ronald Faraldo – I guess that depends a bit on whether you see this all as separate or not.

    • Ronald Faraldo Says:

      Of course. Although not always sucessful, ( I have to remind “myself”constantly) I try to feel, see ,us all as one.One of the old holy men in the repotage one day had taken his food and returned to his place on the road and realized he had forgotten his water bottle.He could hardly take one step every 2-3 mins.. Of course, seeing this I rushed in and got him a bottle of water, returned and gave it to him. The look in his eyes convinced me that all is INDEED one.

  5. cspacenz Says:

    Good collection of photo images there Richard. I have many of my own from the different trips so recognize many of these ones. I would often sit on Pradakshina Road chatting to the sadhus and sharing little bags of potato chips or whatever, in fact, I think you saw me sitting there on a few occasions, probably with an orange T-shirt on ! Many of them speak very good English, many are well educated and each one certainly has a story of their own.

    Who is to say what any of these men are, really ? Beggars, holy men, runaway convicts, runaways from a nagging wife, who knows, who is to say ? I have heard many of the stories and at the end of them all it is none of my business and I can never know anyway.

    As Ramana says…

    Having looked into the three states of life,
    In Heart hold fast unto the State Supreme
    That really is, but in the world e’er play!
    That in the Heart you’ve known, that basis is
    Of all appearances, holding to That
    Play in the world in any way you like!

    When I see these men I simply see them as playing the role of Sadhu just for my benefit, as all a part of my dream, none of which is real anyway.

    But you have to love those photos don’t you ??

    Best wishes to you both, Richard and Carol, keep up the good work.


  6. mysticresearcher Says:

    These pictures reminds me the encounters of Paul Brunton written down in his book ‘ A Search In Secret India’ , his meeting with various holy men from North to South of India, in his quest to find a true yogi.

    Picture No. 2 capatures me the most.

    I sense the holy men sitting on the rock, is performing a kind of yoga.

    How you communicated with these holy men.
    Whether these men still perform with those described in Paul Bruton book of mystic yoga techniques.


  7. Art Palmer Says:

    Watching all these Sadhus pictured here quite carefully left me with a strange feeling. Of course compassion. Perhaps can’t intellectualize its meaning. There is always meaning. Or is there? Ultimately, I think so. Some Sadhus looked happy, but not as many as I expected. Some very hard-pressed. Oh! such dear, dear souls!

    • Ronald Faraldo Says:

      I´m sure that for many sadus it is a kind of retirement. And, why not?? Better than what we do in many western countries with our old and sick. I would rather hang out in front of the R ashram waiting for rice and dal and watching all the beautiful people walking by ,than sitting in Sweden or America in an old age home,druged and staring at a TV going all day long.Maybe if I´m lucky someone is making a fire during the night I rest beside and think how lucky we are all are to experince this beautiful of precious life. We somehow make our own world up. How much better in Mother India. Life is such a circus and we didn´t even need to buy a ticket!

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      Most Indians would not chose to retire this way. Most Indians are very attached to their family, and to leave them, as these Sadhus do, would be most difficult. In India there is the idea of the four stages of life, these are called Ashrmas.

      The First Ashrama – “Brahmacharya” or the Student Stage
      The Second Ashrama – “Grihastha” or the Householder Stage
      The Third Ashrama – “Vanaprastha” or the Hermit Stage
      The Fourth Ashrama – “Sannyasa” or the Wandering Ascetic Stage

      So the idea of taking up life as a Sannyasa is part of the culture. It takes a lot to give up family and possessions, and just live from what God gives you. And to live outside house in the sun and rain.

    • Ronald Faraldo Says:

      My reply was meant as a response to an attitude I have encountered often from people both Western and Asian, that view these people are nothing but beggars. In the years I have spent in India I have encountered of course many beggars as well as many holy men and women. My meaning in my previous response was that I consider them ALL holy men. I also can imagine that many also may not have to leave their families as their families leave them through death. As my family have left me. Getting old and suffering this loss can be painful. However I feel that the Indian “way” of offering us this final “stage”as an “institution”, far more kind than what I encounter here in my country. OM

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      OK, I understand. Certainly some see these sadhus as ‘orange beggars.’ And some probably are. That surely is not the only story, I see many that are sincere, and I see them enough to see that some are filled with joy. Like you, I think they are all holy. And I agree that it is a wonderful institution that at the end of one’s life, one can give up everything and dedicate yourself to God, to a spiritual life.

    • Ronald Faraldo Says:

      Please keep up the good work Richard. Every time your site pops up , it´s like a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      Thank you for the kind words. My wife and I put a lot into these posts, and comments like yours are good encouragement.

  8. Hariharan Ramalingam Says:

    A great work with camera. Blessed are you. Maharishi Ramana used to say often that the easiest way to realise self is to beg and live around Arunachala or simply go for Girivalam. It should be our aim to be part of this holy crowd one day and serve the Humankind through meditation
    Namo Ramana

  9. Ushka Devi Says:

    Merci for the pics. Sadhu’s are a perfect example of light footprints on mother earth. Even if some/many are beggars posing in orange robes they are out of the loop of global degradation. They have quenched sensual gratification.Then! They are a reminder of the sacred. Uplifting.The only question I have is why are they always men? Arunachala Shiva!

  10. B V Narasimha Rao Says:

    God may appear in any form,some times as a sadhu,whom we mistake for a Beggar and unable to Know him.Sadhus are divine persons leading a simple life.Richards sir, you gave an excellent presentation about Arunachal Sadhus.Bhagavan shower his blessings upon you.

    • Ronald Faraldo Says:

      ” GOD” appears in ALL forms at ALL times.Beggar or not ; who cares??? ALL IS ONE:

    • kalpa108 Says:

      Yes, we cannot recognize Him unless He wills that. We cannot judge another for all are Him only. This in and of itself is a difficult sadhana. Would we recognize Sri Sai Baba today on the street, as depicted in your beautiful small image?

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      Loocals say that there are always six Jnanis around Arunachala. They may be known, nor not known. Maybe it is just that quiet one, over there …

  11. Mohanji (@mohanpk) Says:

    Thank You, Richard for this lovely treat. There are many Siddhas in Arunachala. Many are invisible to the naked eyes. This work is indeed from your heart. Best Regards. Mohan

  12. gerardaparis Says:

    Dear Richard, Thank you very much.There is a lot of confusion in the indu society about beggars,sadhus and sannyasis.Today,beggars wear kashaya(orange coloured)clothes,often.All sannyasis are sadhus;but not all sadhus are sannyasis.A formal sanyasi will always wear kashayas clothes.It is very common in South India for Sadhus who live a life of complete outward renounciation to continue wearing white clothes but not to take formal sanyasa.For exemple,Sri Bhagavan Ramana lived the life of of an examplary sadhu,but He never took formal sanyasa.All these outwards changes happen according to prarabdha.

    Ever yours in Bhagavan, Gérard

    > Message du 27/06/13 13:51 > De : “Living in the Embrace of Arunachala” > A : > Copie à : > Objet : [New post] Sadhus of Arunachala: A Pictorial > > Richard Clarke posted: “The photos that follow are some that I have taken over the last five years of sadhus living near Arunachala, mostly along Pradakshina Road. I thought that these would be interesting to the readers of this blog. Many were taken during sadhu feedings, which”

  13. agoyvaerts Says:

    So lovely to see these Holy men, I feel similar to you Richard, that they are very important to the rest of the world, humankind. The joy that these special people instil all around them is precious. Thank you for this extensive, visual report.

  14. Ronald Faraldo Says:

    Thank you. This post made my evening here in France more happy.I recognise some faces and this feels very good.Please keep up the good work. Is it possible to walk the inner path October, November, December??

  15. Krishnamurthy Rama Says:

    Dear Mr.clarke, So nice to see all the photos taken by u , of sadhus staying around the holy mountain Arunachala. May Arunachala bless u in every way .


  16. kalpa108 Says:

    “Blanket Swami” is Mukupoodi Swami – glad he is…
    Have only once seen or had the darshan of one ‘contemporary’ great one here…he had a white dove on his shoulder, would not talk or take anything,or even look around him; he walked with the most astoundingly even stride. He entered, walked around both shrines in Ramanasramam and departed, in one astounding five minutes. A few others saw him at Skandasram around the same time, but have not seen him now for four years or so, and only this once.

  17. Rajalakshmi Velu Says:

    Mr.Richard, Thank you very much for this wonderful post..
    The little children Raam Kumar and Janani, who assist you are really gifted … My regards to you and Madam.

  18. drsundaram Says:

    thank you so much mr richard. a very worthy presentation by you. arunachalaya namaha

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