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Indian Holy Man's Roll of a Lifetime Stopped at Border

September 25, 2004|Shankhadeep Choudhury | Times Staff Writer

WAGAH, India — After more than 1,500 miles, Ludkan Baba, the Hindu ascetic who is rolling across India for peace, suspended his quest after being rebuffed at the Pakistani border.

The holy roller decided Friday to return to his hometown of Ratlam with his 11-member, hymn-singing entourage to wait for India's government to issue passports. Indian border guards turned him back for a lack of valid travel documents.

"I am sure we will be issued passports," said the ascetic, born Mohan Bas, whom admirers call Ludkan Baba, or the Rolling Saint. "I am fully confident I would be able to roll into Pakistan and finish this yatra," or holy journey.

Border Security Force official L.R. Yadav said authorities had no choice. "He does not have the required travel papers. So, quite naturally, we do not have orders to allow him to cross."

However, Ludkan Baba, accompanied by followers, was allowed to roll to the last Indian gate for a better view of Pakistan. He seized this opportunity to kiss the soil and chant, "Long live world peace!" His followers quickly joined in.

An attempt to send an appeal to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf requesting permission to enter didn't work because the Pakistani border guards refused to accept the document.

The 55-year-old Hindu religious figure, or sadhu, said he began his career in 1973, when he entered a cave and stayed for 12 years, surviving on grass and water.

There, a divine voice told him to lie down and start rolling for peace, he said. His first trip was about 25 miles; his third trip, in 1994, covered 2,500 miles across India. He began his current crusade in January from his home to New Delhi.

As he called it quits for the moment, he said: "My mission is to spread the message of world peace. I am feeling very sad. Issuing passports is a simple thing for the government of India.... It's a lapse on their part that they, from their side, did not issue me one till now."

Crisscrossing the prosperous northern Indian province of Punjab on the road to Pakistan, Ludkan Baba said: "Punjab has been an overwhelming experience. I have got a lot of love and respect here.

"What makes me extremely happy is the fact that people in thousands ... at least 10 to 15,000 at some places ... have been waiting to receive me. At all those places where we halted at night, they have pitched in with food to express support for my mission."

Even though a fractured bone in his shoulder compelled him to suspend his holy roll at Ludhiana, in Punjab, for about three weeks, he said nothing would break his will to roll on. He remains as determined as ever to meet Musharraf in Pakistan.

Unless he reaches Lahore, Pakistan, he said, "I won't take a fresh resolve to roll anywhere else. How can I? If I do that, you all will ask me, what happened to your resolve? Why did you leave your mission unaccomplished?"

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