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Amar Bharati, The Man who Raised his Arm in The Air for 50 years

When you think of spiritual dedication, you may think of monks or nuns – people who dedicate their whole existence to a higher power.

These individuals refrain from indulging in things that they feel take their purity away from them, for example, by forgoing romantic relationships and even basic comforts.

Photograph showing the withered arm of Amar Bharati. Image via X.

One man’s unwavering spiritual faith has led him to embark on an extraordinary gesture to show his commitment.

For over 50 years, Amar Bharati has raised an arm above his head, not once lowering it in the five decades he’s held it in the air.

You may think this is an impossible feat. But Amar, an Indian sadhu, began this endeavor in 1973 without the intention of ever dropping his limb again. 

To this day, his arm points to the sky, his muscles wasted, and his fingers devoid of any feeling. However, Amar Bharati wasn’t always the staunch religious man he’s known as today. 

Discover the fascinating story of Amar Bharati and his painful expression of faith that led him to keep his arm in the air for decades.

A Spiritual Awakening

In the early 70s, Amar was living the typical life of a young Indian man. He worked at the local bank, was married with three children, and had a comfortable existence.

Still, this wouldn’t be enough for him. While he was certainly spiritual, he felt there was more to life that he couldn’t access without delving deeper into his spirituality.

He decided to make extreme changes in his life. He wanted to live the holiest existence he could, and to do that, he needed to abandon his current life.

That meant leaving his wife, children, and job behind – anything that represented a distraction to his faith. This began his journey toward dedicating his life to the Hindu god, Shiva.

After fleeing his middle-class family life, Amar began walking the roads of India dressed in his saffron sadhu clothes and carrying only one possession: his trishula. 

A trishula is a metal trident that is affiliated with Shiva, with each prong on the weapon representing the acts of creation, preservation, and destruction. 

The weapon would also be useful for fishing on his lengthy walks across the Indian countryside.

Still, Amar felt too connected to the luxuries life had to offer. He wanted to align himself with Shiva fully. In 1973, Amar made the decision to raise his arm in the air to show his unity with Shiva.

Shiva is an important god in Hinduism, which is the world’s oldest religion. Shiva is a part of the holy trinity, alongside gods Brahma and Vishnu. This god represents kindness and altruism, though they are also known as the destroyer and creator of everything.

The religion believes that every 2,160,000,000 years, the universe is regenerated by Shiva. The god has to destroy their every creation in order to allow for a new creation to be made. 

Shiva is also known to be self-denying, abstaining from worldly pleasures and comforts, focusing their attention on meditation. It’s thought that meditation is a way to achieve bliss. This resonated with Amar deeply.

As well as raising his arm to the sky to align himself with his god, Amar also had another reason for his decision: to protest against the fighting going on in the world.

By this point, Amar was a highly respected Sadhu, and his gesture of raising his arm would only further heighten his following.

This act would, unbeknown to him at the time, also make him famous.

The Famous Raised Right Arm

Holding your arm in the air for more than a few minutes is uncomfortable, even painful. When Amar embarked on his spiritual journey, he understood it would cause him a great deal of pain and determination to ensure his arm remained pointing to the sky. 

Amar Bharati’s withered hand and fingers. Image via Flickr/INDIA5855.

Still, he intended to see his spiritual gesture through, deciding from the start that he’d live the rest of his life with his right arm above his head. 

His body naturally would have tried to lower the limb to avoid any more discomfort, something Amar had to fight against for almost two years.

At that time, the agony he felt while raising his arm was excruciating. However, his dedication to his cause surpassed the pain he felt throughout this time.

It took around two years before the aching arm lost all sensation. When Amar lost feeling in his limb, he also lost all use of it.

His muscles had wasted away to the point he was unable to use them, and his hand and fingers were also rendered inoperable. His fingers had curled into the palm of his hand, and his fingernails had turned into spirals that ran down his wrist.

When asked by the Indian media why he was inflicting such pain onto himself, Amar responded, “I want all Indians to live in peace. I want the whole world to live in peace.”

Over the years, his right arm has withered into a frail extremity, his limb now half the size of his healthy left arm.

There is no longer any blood circulation in his right arm, which has caused irreversible damage.

If Amar ever decided he wanted to regain use of this limb, he would be unable to – there is no way to reverse the damage that has been caused by five decades of holding it in the air.

In fact, if there were any attempt by Amar to begin using his arm, likely, it would simply snap off. His cartilage has dried up so much it would break from his body. 

The only thing that prevented the tissue in his arm from dying and necrosis from setting in was the fact that the rest of Amar’s body was healthy. This has helped him preserve the limb despite it being badly damaged.

It’s been suggested that his body has even grown additional tissue to help support his arm in its unusual position. Due to a lack of blood flow, his nails have only grown a few inches in over 50 years.

The Life Of A Sadhu

With there being no recognized certification for sadhus, it’s difficult to get an accurate figure as to how many there are. It’s estimated that there are between four to five million practicing sadhus in India today. 

To become a sadhu, the individual needs to detach themselves from everything they know: friends, family, work, and their comforts. Hindu people call this Vairāgya, which translates to dispassion or renunciation.

In Amar’s case, he renounced his three children and wife in order to embark on his journey to becoming a sadhu.

Amar Bharati has now had his hand raised for over 50 years. Image via Reddit.

Sadhus don’t work; instead, they are supported by donations. They don’t have a permanent home, their only means of transport is walking, and they have little to no possessions. 

Often, all they’ll own is their clothing and, more recently, a smartphone. The phones are only used to talk to other sadhus and to inform one another of important news they may not otherwise get to know about.

Celibacy among sadhus is common, though not a requirement as part of the religion. Should a sadhu engage in sex, it’s viewed as impersonal. Tantric sex is a method they utilize should they break their celibacy.

Every 12 years, there’s a mass assembly of sadhus called Kumbh Mela, where the holy men from all over India meet up. Non-sadhus also come to take part in the event, which sees the sadhus stripped naked and covering their bodies in ash. 

They also partake in a pre-sunrise run into the cold waters nearby before spending the rest of the day catching up on what their fellow men have been up to. The event also allows the holy men to enjoy hashish, passing it around from one sadhu to another.

However, they don’t condone smoking for non-sadhus. Since sadhus believe they have a superior physical condition, they can withstand the harmful effects of smoking. A regular person can not.

Amar Bharati has amassed a loyal, unwavering following among the Sadhu community. Some of those who look up to him have recreated his raised arm gesture, hoping that they, too, show their devotion to Shiva.

Continuing The Gesture

One individual who followed in Amar’s footsteps is a man named Haat Baba. While he’s only managed ten percent of Amar’s fifty-year stretch, his decade-long run with his arm in the air had been no easy feat.

Unlike Amar, Haat Baba’s arm has yet to wither away, though his right arm is noticeably lacking in muscle in comparison to his left limb. 

Like Amar, though, his fingers have curled into his unused palm, and his uncut fingernails touch his wrist. Haat Baba says his raised arm is his way of praying.

A closeup of Amar Bharati’s hand and fingers. Photo via Reddit.

There have been other reports of sadhus continuing this penance, with the act becoming a symbol of spirituality and closeness to Shiva.

Some of these men are just a few years into their journey, while other sadhus have reportedly raised an arm for almost 30 years.

Still, Amar Bharati was the first holy man to adopt this way of showing allegiance to Shiva and has adapted his whole lifestyle to live as if his right arm was missing. He uses his left arm to eat, wash, and dress.

If Amar tried to lower his arm, not only would it cause him immense physical pain, but it would also interfere with his spiritual connection to Shiva.

Amar is expected – and intends – to keep his arm raised for decades to come in hopes that his desire for peace will materialize.


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