The results of an image search through the World Wide Web for ‘Standing Babas’ can make one wince. Coming face-to-face with pictures of ulcerated feet and swollen legs can have that effect.
A Khareshwari or Standing Baba is a Hindu who has taken the vow to not sit or lie down for 12 or more years. To the average person, the austerity is inexplicable. It elicits shock and amazement at first, and confusion later–why would anyone voluntarily inflict such pain upon themselves?
The Khareshwaris are not alone. The Aghoris barely wear anything and survive in terrible living conditions. They eat human corpses, animal faeces and drink urine. But, for what? You ask.
As explained by Gavin Flood in his book The Ascetic Self: Subjectivity, Memory and Tradition, the Hindu ascetic, holding his arm aloft, is conforming to tradition and appropriating a cultural form as an act of will–a will that, in the end, seeks its own destruction. “Asceticism must be seen in the context of a ritual,” he emphasises.
Asceticism, the practice of self-mortification and self-denial to reach enlightenment, is fundamental to all major religions.