Becoming a Naga is a process, which takes many years. The First Stage is called the Mahapurush, the second stage—the Avdhoot and the final one is called the Naga.
The Mahakumbh Mela’13 had witnessed more than 2000 monks who took part in the diksha ritual or initiation held by gurus to become a naga sadhu. The ritual for new members takes place during every Kumbh Mela. The Naga order is a highly secretive group and their initiation or Diksha ceremony is not made known to the public. This is performed away from the public eye without any disturbance.
It starts by volunteering to be Naga. After various levels of checks done by the gurus about the devotee, they are clubbed in a batch and later in pairs. There is no bar of age and gender to become a naga baba, what matters the most is the spiritual quest and tough mantle required for the determinant walk through the rough path of denial.
All of them were taken to the banks of Ganges for group mundan (shaving of head) and wait for opportune time to complete the process of diksha.
Women in Naga section are called juna sanyasini akhara or the Juna Nuns order. They have their own separate space and anointed leader to follow. Nearly 200 of newly ordained female Naga Sadhus underwent the ritual cleansing that ordains them into the order.
Most of the Sanyasini’s are from Nepal and southern part of India and they are the harbingers of a new tradition in this male dominated religious order.
Unlike their male counterparts who are mostly naked, female nagas wear a single saffron robe draped across their bodies. One of the strictest rules the nuns follow is that they can never ever be seen naked.
They shave their hair and perform their own last rites- the traditional ‘Pind Daan’ and ‘Shraadh’, as it’s the first step to leading the life of an ascetic in the order.
Also, the sanyasini’s goes through the process of ‘Diksha’
Beyond the spiritual quest, the reasons people choose the sadhu life are varied: escape their caste, a painful family status, economic situation, but also for a woman it is the infamy of widowhood.
Female Naga Sadhus were attending the Mahakumbh for the first time. The next such female Naga Sadhu ordination will be held in 2016 at Ujjain.
The newly volunteered disciples were led to Ganga for a first round of prayer and chanting.
As they stand together in the holy water, they dedicate themselves to the Naga discipline and offer water and do surya namaskar.
A time to stand in the allotted group, holding hands of the paired one, to celebrate the joy of dedicating themselves and also praying for each other’s success in finishing the toughest journey of being a Naga.
Pairing is not for dip but for the rest of life. They are chosen to be paired with each other and that relationship is bigger than any otherworldly relationship, as it’s to protect, guard and builds each other in the discipline.
The volunteers have to perform a number of sacrifices with oblations for gods, ancestors and guardians in accordance with the Vedic dictums for a dharmic or righteous life and become Dvija or twice-born by the performance of these acts. Becoming a Naga is not for everyone, only the strong, dedicated and disciplined heart can walk it.
Gurus offer them amrit before they go for their Antim sanskaar. It’s a series of sacraments, sacrifices and rituals that serve as rites of passage.
Samskara, also marks the various stages of human life and to signify their entry into a particular Ashrama i.e. stage of life.
The process of antim Sanskaar starts by smearing their body with mud, as in Hinduism, the dead body is considered to be symbol of great impurity, and after once death the body will get mixed with sand. By volunteering for Naga, they are dead for their loved ones and for the present visible world.
Rites of passage, consists of three phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation. The rites of separation from a previous world, preliminal rites, those executed during the transitional stage liminal (or threshold) rites, and the ceremonies of incorporation into the new world post liminal rites.
Shift from one phase to another involves Withdrawal from current phase as well as preparation for the next phase. The first phase (of separation) comprises of symbolic behavior signifying the detachment from the social structure
They have to perform rites that enable the soul of the dead to transit successfully from the stage of a ghost to the realm of the ancestors, the pitrs.
Rites performed in honor of the pitrs, as Hindus believe in reincarnation and view death as the soul moving from one body to the next on its path to reach Nirvana.
As part of the ritual, they have to smear themselves in turmeric paste, as it is believed to guard the dead body from other evil spirits. This also helps in the process of soul movement.
It’s a part of ceremony, which helps them consider themselves dead and ready to surrender their souls to the almighty.
Also believed that the prayer and chanting during the ceremony is for the peace and happiness of each of their 21 preceding generations.
There is no turning back from the transition (luminal) phase, as its period between states, during which one has left one place or state but has not yet entered or joined the next.
The wait is long and tiring, but the hope to get freed does not end here but its worth a wait
The re-aggregation and incorporation process is consummated by a set of rituals.
The distribution of new loincloth symbolizes new body and new soul and smooth transition.
It’s a movement of Joy and transformation as one has received the new body and assured of nirvana.
The chosen transformation is a phase of leaving the old self and transiting in new self and the birth of new body and purpose, which is not of this world.
Every naga is paired, grouped and then falls under the lieutenant’s of the gurus. It helps in better guidance, discipline and accountability. Having completed the rites and assumed their "new" identity, one re-enters society with one's new status.
Becoming a Naga, is about proclaiming the detachment from the worldly life and clothes, even till the level of denial about sexuality and the stage of Sanyasa, which means complete renunciation from the worldly joys. A Naga Sadhu is just not a naked ash-smeared ascetic but an individual who crosses all the boundaries to attain the ultimate truth of life.