KARWAR: The followers of the ‘Nath Tradition’, a timeless lineage of spiritual masters, connected with infinite consciousness, are found, even today, living like hermits in caves and temples, in the pristine surroundings of Western Ghats in the Uttara Kannada district.
Clad in saffron clothes, the Nath, also called as Siddhas, go around either fully dressed or half-naked after smearing their body with the ash collected from the sacred fire. With matted hair, a trident and a Kamandal (pot) in their hands, they look unusual. Wearing six dark brown, sacred threads with beads around their neck, they are distinguished by their huge earrings.
Their ‘awesome looks’ create fear at the first instance. Moreover, they dislike visitors. But once you build a rapport with them, they will unfold the reasons for following this peculiar life style and what they want to achieve from it, says Manjunath Sullolli, district information officer, who had a tete-a-tete with some of them during his exploration of the Western Ghats in Joida taluk some time ago.
“My first encounter with a Nath, was in a cave, on the top of a hillock. He was chanting some mantras in front of a holy fire in the afternoon. My entry angered him and he asked me to go away. I spent the whole night outside the cave. The next morning, the Nath had mellowed down and called me inside. He offered me milk and allowed me to photograph him”, says Sullolli.
According to the information officer, the Naths use rice and dal while they collect their source of drinking water from streams and rivers but never from the wells.
A few mutts located in the deep forest region of Joida taluk and other places bordering Joida in Khanapur taluk too are following the Nath Sampradaya. “Siddhas live in these mutts and carry out many religious practices. The fire is considered very sacred in their tradition and one cannot show any disrespect. In fact, the followers of this tradition consider nature as their true god,” Sullolli points out.
They worship the pancha maha bhutas : Akasha (sky), Vayu ( air), Teja (fire), Jala (water) and Pritvi (Earth). They drink water, only in a sitting posture as they consider the standing posture an insult to water. They believe Shiva as Adi Nath. Obviously, Shiva has a prime place in their religious beliefs and practices.
“They worship the Sun God in the morning and blow the shankha (conch) during the pooja,” says Sullolli.
Some Siddhas practice ‘Hata Yoga’, while some of them meditate in a standing posture, day in and day out without any sleep. It has also been seen that some Siddhas sit in a corner of a cave in total isolation, for days together, meditating. Like other holy men, a few of them smoke ganja, for achieving the fifth stage of trance. They follow the tantric techniques to reach the path of ecstasy.
All the villages, surrounding these mutts provide the Siddhas ‘rice, dal and milk’. Some of the Siddhas have taken to rearing of cows for fulfilling their day-to-day needs. Most of the followers of ‘Nath Tradition’ living in the forests of Joida taluk, come from Maharashtra, where this tradition has a big following.
(With inputs from Manjunath Sullolli)
Perfecting Spiritual Attainment
Among the ‘Nath Siddhas’ in the serene jungles of Western Ghats, there are a number of unknown, hidden sects. Many spiritual cults and traditions exist in the forest regions of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa and Kerala. One can find the Nath Sampradaya Mathas, devoted to the Navanath tradition and yogic mysticism, in the forest hills of Karwar and Belgaum districts. Some age-old Mathas in Karwar and Belgaum districts are dedicated to Gorakhanath.
Kirawala and Dongargaon mathas are located at around 900 feet height while the others are at 700 feet. With wild animals abounding, there is no good road to these mathas except Handibadagnatha Matha which itself is located five kilometres interior, on way to Goa from Dharwad. According to some Naths, this sect originated with the teachings of the mythical ‘Rishi Dattatreya’ who is believed to be a combined incarnation of the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
The unique spiritual attainment of this legendary figure is mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana, the Mahabharata and later in Upanishads while others hold it as an offshoot of the Hatha Yoga. Over the centuries, the Nath Sampradaya has become labyrinthine in proportions and has assumed different forms in different parts. Some Gurus of the Sampradaya lay stress on bhakti, while some others on jnana, still others on yoga.