A jet-setting, cave-dwelling holy man is on a crusade to save the glaciers, reports Isha Manchanda
AS YOU walk into an immaculate tent by the Ganges at the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, full of people waiting to see “babaji”, his entourage of white folks are busy hurrying everyone out in heavily accented Hindi. Soham Baba, a Nagaaghori sadhu and the Mahamandaleshwar of the Juna Akhara, must leave for Mumbai. You do get glimpses of the baba with the busy schedule and even exchange a few words with him as he explains his departure. Head wrapped in saffron, Soham baba is an imposing man, in contrast to the benevolent voice that greets you on the phone with “Om Shanti”. Babaji is out of his cave, spreading awareness about global warming.
Amidst the confusion over their rapidly melting state, the Himalayan glaciers have found support in an unlikely corner. Soham Baba, mostly in dhyaan and who has been living in a cave for 26 years, has taken it upon himself to educate his fellow sadhus — and other mortals — of the impending threat to the Himalayas. “We have to worry about our home, about where we live,” he says.
This mystic attempting to save the Himalayas from mankind’s cruel onslaught has more than a prayer to wish global warming away (although a mahapuja is scheduled at the Maha Kumbh in Haridwar). For one, Soham Baba plans to address lakhs of devotees at the Kumbh to spread awareness. He will also lead over 1,000 Nagas in a procession. He is also city-hopping to meet environmentalists and politicians and talk about saving the Himalayas. “Even though I can’t name people, since talks are still midway, I’ve even spoken to congressmen in the United States about the issue. If we are going to do anything to address climate change, the Himalayan glaciers should be top priority,” he adds.
One of the most important reasons for Soham Baba’s green campaign is the fear that if the glaciers were to melt, the holy Ganges could be destroyed. Claiming to be the 1,008th sadhu in his family, Soham baba was born in Bengal and supposedly received enlightenment at age four. Refusing to divulge his age, he says, “I used to meditate in caves with my grandfather.” Despite his spiritual learnings, Soham Baba felt the need to study a more earthly vocation. In 1988, he went to Amsterdam with a few disciples to study medicine. “It has given me a better understanding of the human mind and our world,” he adds.
One such disciple went on to become the love of Babaji’s life. Ma Aparna Giri, popularly called Mataji, was a constant source of support for him till her death in 2004. It is with her that he set up the Soham Baba Mission in Amsterdam, a global peace non-profit organisation with operations in 128 countries and headquarters in India, Amsterdam and Japan. Though set up in 1991, it was registered in India in 2005. “My guruji said to start without and then cleanse within,” explains Babaji.
The globe-trotting baba might be difficult to access, with a strict nophoto policy and a switched-off phone when in in a meeting or meditating, but he is determined to somehow stall the impending threat to our country’s holiest river. He might speak with an accent, thanks to years spent travelling and addressing “firangi” disciples, but his heart lies in the mountains and he fervently claims that he will do all he can to save this natural haven from man’s clutches.