An exclusive excerpt from Fractured Forest, Quartzite City by Thomas Crowley, jointly published by SAGE Publications and Yoda Press under the Yoda-SAGE Select imprint. (Published in September 2020)

Chapter 5

Spirits: Transcendence, Sacred and Secular

Stoner Sadhus 

Love of marijuana is yet another commonality linking the Sufis to the yogis. In many of the tantric texts, the virtues of the intoxicating plant are extolled. One text avers that marijuana is essential to ecstasy. The plant is referred to as “victory” and “Gorakhnath’s root”. And, as Sufis gather at Qutb Sahib’s shrine to smoke, sway and (occasionally) scream and shout, groups of Nath Siddhas convene close by, on the northern edges of Sanjay Van, where three Gorakhnath Mandirs have been erected. 

One of these temples, by far the biggest, adjoins the main road and regularly holds large gatherings, culminating in a biannual mela that draws significant crowds. The smallest of the temples, by contrast, is just a low brick wall surrounding several idols, protected by a solitary priest who sleeps beside the temple in a makeshift tent. The third temple combines the remoteness of the small mandir with the sociality of the big one. It is set back, away from the paved roads, in the midst of the jungle of Sanjay Van. It houses a small community of Nath yogis, who receive regular visits from devout Hindus residing in the nearby neighborhoods. 

The third temple is a relatively new structure. It likely dates back only to the 1970s and many of the additions are much newer than that. But its founding, like many structures on the Ridge, from the Hauz-i-Shamsi to Bela’s tomb, was divinely ordained. This, at least, is what I was told by two men from Katwaria Sarai, the neighborhood directly north of Sanjay Van. Not long ago, they said, a sadhu had a dream of Gorakhnath himself appearing in the forest. The immortal sage asked the sadhu to dig at the spot where he was standing. When the sadhu located the spot and dug as instructed, he found several clay idols. The temple was erected on the spot to commemorate the miracle. 

This temple happened to be situated along my commuting route when I would walk through Sanjay Van, from Mehrauli on one side to the Delhi State Archives on the other. I spent many afternoons there, talking with the sadhus and their guests. They were as curious about me as I was about them. They invited me into their smoking circle, as they packed chillums and rolled joints. Once, when visiting with a friend, we asked where they got their supplies from. At first, they didn’t quite understand the question, or, more accurately, they thought that the answer was so obvious that they didn’t understand why we had asked. Eventually, they just gestured in front of them, and there, growing in the lawn outside the temple, were several marijuana plants. It seems that the barrenness of the Ridge’s soil was not enough to keep the miraculous victory plant from taking root. 

Marijuana plants aside, the temple always struck me as an idyllic place. The sadhus spent their time playing with a small white dog named Rocky and a big black dog named Julie, along with a small litter of unnamed puppies. They cooked hearty meals over an open flame. During one of my visits, a sadhu was hard at work preparing lemon pickle. Another day, the sadhus were crowded around listening to Shiva chants on an old CD player. 

Excerpted with permission from Fractured Forest, Quartzite City by Thomas Crowley, jointly published by SAGE Publications and Yoda Press under the Yoda-SAGE Select imprint.

2020, 368 pages, Paperback: Rs. 795 (ISBN: 978-93-5388-554-0).

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