Story of the Uniform

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Version 1.2 August 2008
By Bhaeravii Devi with Ac Bhaskarananda Avt

Even though all the talk in virtual forum regarding acarya uniforms and the repercussions of wearing them in public or not has concluded, this has given me rise to gather more information about what is the full uniform and what it represents. They are so commonplace a sight for Margiis, but how often does one stop to pay attention past who is freshly ironed or not, how easy it is to spot the orange dot in a crowd at the airport pickup curb, or perhaps muse upon the subtly different shades of fabric that range from the color of orange juice to one a deeper shade reminiscent of ripe mango.

It is important to remember that the AMarga acarya uniform is not a haphazard piece of loose clothing worn just for comfort. The acarya uniform was not something that was tossed together on whim, but another working of the laboratory of the mind of Baba. According to Dada Bhaskaranandji as he was told by Dada Satyanandji, Baba had a dream as a child of someone wearing the uniform of an avadhuta coming to earth from a different planet to meet Him. It was out of this vision that He patterned the revered uniform of His sannyasii, the prototype for his social worker and spiritual guide combination. In an organization with no temples or formal structures of worship, but known for personal services in providing schools and disaster relief, the uniform shows itself as the most visible representation of Baba in society at large, and of course, the cognitive human factor inside.

There is something about the invisible energetics of that uniform and the respect it elicits in public. People pay attention. Even in the West where not many understand the spiritual traditions of the East, there is curiousity and enough awe to pay attention. For persons of Indian heritage, no explanation is needed. My neighbor, from South India working in Silicon Valley and a devout practicing Hindu, spotted a dada on the walkway and immediately went to stand face to face with him, put his hands together, bowed his head, and did a namaste to receive a blessing from dada of a few words.

The whole time workers (WTs) were created out of the family acaryas a few years after the formation of AMPS in 1955 due to the rapidly increasing workload of the expanding Mission. Baba wanted the family acaryas to take longer and longer leaves from their families and jobs for pracar throughout India. The request for more and more pracar created a situation in which the householders came to realize their limitations and understand that full time workers were essential to realize the proper dynamism of the Mission. In a vote, the householders unanimously requested Baba to create sannyasiis (monks), who would fulfill this need for workers 100 percent of their time dedicated. And by this decision, the sannyasii system was created inside the organization and the next step creating Baba’s vision for a new value-oriented complete civilization was put into action.

The first new workers were diiksha bhratas (initiated brothers) of the householder dadas. The first four sannyasii created were 1) Satyanandji (who left shortly after Baba’s departure and installation of PP), 2) Shivanandji (later Samanvayananda), 3) Sambuddhanandji (later Dharmadevananda, Dada Dharma, as he was known outside India), and 4) Pranavanadji (the senior most organizationally active acarya still living at this writing). “Initially there were part-time acaryas,” says Dada Pranavanandji. “They would go for pracara and would visit their families also. It was in early1961that Baba decided to make avadhutas. Those who were married had to first take permission from their wives to become avadhutas. The first were Acarya Nityananda, who was later ordained as sanyasin and christened Satyananda Avadhuta, and Acarya Ram Swartha (who was later ordained as sanyasin and christened Shivananda, and they received permission from their wives to work with Baba.”

On the visible social level He introduced “the dedication, service mindedness, and catholicity of Christianity combined with the social equality of the Muslims and the anti-exploitation sentiment of Marxism” into Neohumanism and Prout. They would be trained sannyasii, in the tradition of thousands of years of the renunciates and teachers of Indian legend. These spiritual aspirants were given intensive, indepth training to live life according to Baba’s freshly available practices combining the metaphysics of the original Tantra of Shiva with the Bhakti and Prapathi philosophy of Krishna. Not stopping there, Baba also incorporated the ethics and morality of the Buddha and the austerity of the Mahaviir Jains into personal transformative precepts of “subjective approach through objective adjustment”.

Acaryas would be respected depending on their degree of dedication to Guru coupled with the ability for hard work. This means moving through levels of the demanding practice of the Rajadhira’ja Tantra Yoga, the AMarga system of sadhana directing inner energy, as tutored by Baba, through the stages of Sahaja Yoga (easy yoga/the system of our 7 lessons), Kapalika Sadhana, Avadhuta Diiksa, and later Vishesa Yoga (special yoga created by Krishna). The Kapalika Sadhana was first introduced by Lord Shiva, with Bhaerava and Bhaeravii his first initiates. A well-practiced acarya is indeed a living tradition and wellspring of knowledge for society and his/her students.

So the new uniform was to be a full the representation of the complex internal components of higher truth incorporated into this new way of life, as well as a simple, culturally sensitive form of dress for social work and public rituals.

Before the ERAWS was formed around 1965 with the first school at Anandapur in Bhagalupur Bank, Bihar, there were no formal brahmacari uniforms or Sanskrit names. Every acarya was posted with their laukika name, like Satyandji was Ac Nityanandaji, Prananvanandji was Ac Rameshji, and Sambuddhanandji was Ac Asimji. They used to wear a simple dhoti and kurta in white. Dhoti means Bihar or Bengal style longcloth, similar to a lungi, but tiered in a very different style. Every so often a photograph of Baba on a field walk is posted on the internet and he is accompanied by dadas in all white, dating these photos as pre-1965.

“I joined Ananda Marga as whole time worker on December 1, 1961. I underwent Prout and Tattvika training during December 1 and 14 and appeared before Baba for examination. He was merciful enough to pass me. Then I worked as Tattvika as assistant to Ac. Asimji. During the last week of December 1961, there was a terrible accident in which many of us were seriously injured. Myself, Nityanandaji (later Satyananda), Asimji (later Sambuddhananda), and many others. After I recovered from injuries, I was given acarya training and was posted in South India by the end of March, 1962,” recalls Dada Pranavanandji. “The first avadhuta was ordained during Ananda Purnima of 1962. Training Centre started sometime in 1964 and thereafter Dadas and Didis started getting their name changed.”

The uniform of the male ERAWS workers was originally white pants, orange gown, orange headgear, and white waist belt copied from Vivekananda. Baba asked a Margii, who was the then Chief Vigiliance Officer of the Bihar Electricity Board of 1965-6 named Shayma Narayan Srivastava for input and he suggested it. While Vivekananda did not bother about colors, Baba was specific that the belt should be white. Initially only ERAWS acaryas and SDM acaryas used to wear the uniforms. Acaryas working in PU and VSS were exempt from the uniform for reason of work. But later, in the turmoils of 1971, it became the compulsory uniform for all the non-avadhuta acaryas/brahmacari sadhakas.

Later, after being given the avadhuta diiksha, one gets the dream uniform. The main pieces of the full uniform are the lungi, lungota, gown, sash, shawl, and turban for dadas and veil for didis. Discipline in those early days was very strict as to its proper wearing with all the accessories. The color is orange like a flame, the traditional saffron color of renunciation, a colored cloth easily available and plentiful in India. The uniforms are measured to size and handmade by Margii and non-Margii tailors. The new avadhutas got their first uniform from their department head at their first post. “There was a rule that your boss had to give you the first uniform. Thereafter you are wise enough to make it according to your convenience,” says Bhaskaranandji.

“The turban is a sort of head-dress and keeps you smart and soldier-like,” says Pranavanandji. “Baba wanted us to be soldiers, so our uniform is also like that of soldiers. With long hair, the turban helps us to remain tidy.” It is a matter of simple reflection that the turban originally was used in fights for protection. It saves the head from extreme cool in winter and hot in summer. Of course, every religion has their identifying headgear covering the crown. In terms of the Tantric practice, it blocks light and keeps the pineal gland dark and cool so it can ideally secrete the coveted divine nectar necessary for spiritual intoxication.

But the official, and most simple, uniform of the Bhaerava (the title of every male Tantric) is his birthday suit. There is a story about a reporting session before Baba where it was required for acaryas to give their reports in the nude and they were in full uniform. It is recalled Baba affectionately saying, “Take off those silly costumes!” in reference to their orange uniform. The following sloka was given by Baba in the May 1970 DMC at Ranchi, a few days before his arrest. “It is amazing to write these precious things said only once in a general meeting of Avadhutas so long ago,” recalls Bhaskaranandji. “It is a mark of the intensity of my respect to the Master in remembering this material.”

Sambaro va pi ca digambaro va

(With cloth or with the cardinal directions as the cloth {meaning naked})

Tvagambaro va pi ca cidambarastha,

(Skin as the only dress or transcendental knowledge worn as the cloth)

Unmattavadvapi ca balavad va

(Like an intoxicated ghoul or frolicking child)

Pishaca vadvapi ca caratavanyam.

(Like a demon at times, while retributing {giving punishment}the criminals in human form, the avadhutas tread the path.)

One acarya mentioned to me that there is one more piece of clothing that is needed with the uniform outfit in the future—a three-quarter length orange trenchcoat for cold climates and rainy conditions to replace the wide variety of fabrics and mixed styles of dark colored jackets the acaryas wear now (I have even heard of the wearing of bathrobes as coats on occasion over the uniform.).

Accessories include a vertical vermillion line down the forehead (tilaka), the staff (danda), and the dagger (churi). These symbolic accessories go beyond the individual and ego; they express the universal life of the spirit. They communicate a metaphysical reality that is too limited or complex in terms of regular language. The form itself is not enough; the vermillion line, the danda, and the churi can only be understood properly in context of relationship to Baba and His organizational allegories. They are the emblems of the avadhutas/avadhutikas. Slowly the vermillion and danda are becoming forgotten for lack of use.

The vermilion, which according to the old system was imperative, was shaped like a burning flame or a leaf with long and tiny end towards the upper portion of the forehead (a rounded oval shape filling about 60 percent of the space between eyebrows). Why is the vermillion not in use, I asked Dada Bhaskaranandji. “The vermilion as a 24-hour part of the uniform fell from use as its image could create a negative sentiment amongst the public in India and also it looked very flamboyant. You see it on all the pictures of Shiva and photographs of naked lotus-seated sadhus today. Baba never formally advised stopping the practice and kept mum when the wearing of it stopped, gradually, a few days after it began. But it is still compulsory as part of the ritual before the night pooja. No kapalika goes to the burial ground even today without the red. If ever there is an attack psychically, one concentrates on the area between the eyebrows and so is well protected. Any attack is repulsed due to the red. The red causes a boomrang effect of the applied power. It is called tilaka, but this word has now assumed a lot of different meanings, especially for women in regular society who make the red mark on their Ajina chakra with sandal paste.”

Baba has prohibited non-Tantrikas from going to the burial ground. Now many dadas who do not know about this warning of Baba take Margiis along with them to burial grounds and cemetery for sadhana. The fear feeling that is elicited in the dead of night is very important for the tantra sadhana. Also there is the question of safety of the one who is not an initiated tantrika by Baba, as well as distracting the tantrika who is supposed to perform his sadhana alone. Therefore asking a non-tantrika to accompany the tantrika casts a doubt on the purpose and sincerity of the dada who takes a Margii to the burial grounds. So unsuspecting Margiis are advised to discontinue this practice. The profoundly esoteric tantric significance alone can act as a warning to discourage ambitious Margiis who think to sit kapalika alone without proper instruction or in the company of their favorite avadhuta.

“There was a time an avadhuta would not be admitted into meetings or in front of Baba if he did not carry a staff; we call it a danda,” remarked Bhaskaranandji. “The staff is made of strong bamboo and the height is from the ground to the middle of the chest, or until the anahata, so it is quite a personalized accessory. The didis also carried a staff (trishula) of bamboo or strong wood, fitted with a trident on top which reaches just above the shoulder like the one in pictures of Shiva, which looks very beautiful.”

The staff not only embodies authority, but dignity of office. It has the traditional attributes of the control of thought, word, and deed of sages and saints of the past. The danda symbolizes straight forwardness in general and in front of the Master especially, along with unbending strictness in the principles of Yama and Niyama. A few sannyasii in rural MUs in India still carry the danda while walking. I think the Margiis find inspiration in the vision. Some say the habit of using the danda will return in the future for it embodies the spirit of the kapalik, straight as a stick.

“I never used vermillion as a sannyasin,” recalls Pranavanandji. “I never knew it as a part of uniform. Perhaps it remained for a little time in vogue after first sannyasin took oath. We started using dagger less and less after trouble erupted with the administration during Baba’s incarceration. Although I have a danda with me even now, I seldom use it. The majority of avadhutas do not even have it.”

Even today in India many carry the churi, although in the present crisis environment it is discouraged, especially at public functions like DMS. If one does not carry the sheathed dagger tucked in the belt, surely they keep it with their possessions. It is not part of the uniform out of India and rarely does one see it in the global sectors. Many modern and Western cultures would find the archaic masculine phallic symbol of the Tantric’s blade foreign and strange, much less at odds with the image of being devoted to the service of the divine or set apart for religious purposes.

The churi is at least a 6-inch blade. “They look very fine and give the impression of a knight of honor’s side wear,” remarked Bhaskaranandji. Its sharpness symbolizes the cutting through of the illusions of the maya and one’s victory over the negative propensities. It is in the shape of a triangle, the same downward triangle in the Pratiika (the Bhaeravii cakra or Star of David). The churi and skull are used, one in each hand, in the tandava dance (or ideated in the fists). Churis are easily purchased in India or made by special order from ironsmiths, a trade once prominent but now almost disappeared from the common marketplaces. They are also given as a gift, such as from a senior sannyasii to a new avadhuta.

The dagger has sparked a lot of speculation and controversy all over India. The Hindus took this dagger as an unwanted thing for a sannyasii and they have criticized it severely. Shiva originally created this idea of the avadhuta carrying a weapon. He knew the preservation of hairs give courage to fight injustices. Later the Buddha distorted the original ideas of Ahimsa, or non-violence, by asking his followers to shave their body hair so that the human fighting spirit would vanish. As a result, when the Moslem invaders arrived in India, the Buddhist sannyasii, known as Painca Bhadras (“who removed the five hairs”), ran away to hide in the high altitudes of the Himalayan range and paved the way to Lamaism.

The Sikhs in India wear the dagger or sword religiously as it was made compulsory by Guru Gobind Singhji, the tenth Guru of the Khalsa Panth. It was Guru Gobind who re-realized Shiva’s vision and created the first fighting race in hundreds of generations, restoring India’s lost manliness. He asked the Hindus turned Khalsas, or Sikhs (Khalsa is the word for sadvipra in Punjabi), to grow their body hair and start using the Kripan (sword). As the Buddha had destroyed the seeds of survival struggle with his edicts, a few hundred years later Mahatma Gandhi would reinforce this negative idea of Buddha’s action of no reaction under any circumstances in the face of adversity, which has spread all over the world as a philosophy of non-violence.

“One day Baba explained to me how to face the public when they asked this question of why the sanyasii should carry a dagger,” retells Bhaskaranandji. “Baba said ask them: “How do you cut the umbilical chord of a child when it is born? They will reply that it is done with a blade, or in another sense, some sort of weapon. Then you ask them how do you cut firewood to cremate a person after death? In India cremation is the generally accepted form of disposal of a dead body. They will reply that it is done with an axe. When you need a blade from birth to death, why should you throw it away in the middle of life? You will see that the public will slowly retreat.” I have found in dozens of occasions while traveling in train or buses in India, the public who ask the question, do indeed retreat after thinking on Baba’s words.”

Special Thanks is extended to Dada Pranavanandji for his comments and review for accuracy.