American Chooses the Life of a Hindu Holy Woman

February 10, 2001

Source: The Houston Chronicle

On February 10, 2001, The Houston Chronicle published an article on 29-year-old Sadhavi Bhagwati, formerly Phoebe Garfield. "The Stanford University graduate was transformed into a living Hindu saint, or holy woman, in four years. In Hinduism, a saint is a person who has attained a high level of personal sanctity through meditation and good works. The individual's guru or swami bestows the rank. A male saint is known as a sadhu; a woman is called sadhavi. Bhagwati is a leading figure of Parmarth Niketan," a Hindu religious organization with an orphanage plus health care and education programs. This year her organization is taking part in the massive Kumbh Mela festival, which is expected to draw 70 million people and is regarded as the largest religious gathering in the world. She fell in love with Hinduism on a trip to India. "Now she spends her time in meditation in the Himalayas, helping the needy and listening to her leader, Swami Chidanand Saraswati, who she believes is the reincarnation of a deity on Earth...[She] took her vows of celibacy last year, a prerequisite for sainthood." Although her parents have been supportive, "she feels disadvantaged when she doesn't understand some of the Sanskrit teachings, and she still has some difficulty with the worship of God. 'In Judaism, which I grew up with, God is formless, and in Hinduism it's not,'[she explained]...Hinduism does not have the equivalent of a Bible or catechism. Nor does it have a single book of rules. And becoming a Hindu does not require conversion."