India's 'Rolling Saint' comes to UK: Holy man wants to see his name in 'Guinness Book of Records'

Tim McGirk
Wednesday 10 August 1994 23:02 BST

HERE'S a travel warning of a most unusual kind: expect a traffic jam this morning in the vicinity of London's Victoria Station. The delays will not be caused by roadworks or the rail strike, but by an Indian holy man.

With his arms and long hair windmilling wildly, Lotan Baba, India's famous 'Rolling Saint' will be thumping down Grosvenor Road, heading for the peace pagoda in Battersea Park. He is a wiry ascetic from Gujarat who has the willpower to roll half way across India but who cannot quite kick his cigarette habit.

It is doubtful that in today's roll for peace across London the sadhu - holy man - will encounter anything that he has not banged into before. Herds of camels, elephants, crazed lorry drivers - 'one lorry was coming straight at me in Rajasthan, but, thanks be to the Mother Goddess, it overturned in the last minute,' he says - have all swerved from the holy roller's path.

He recently finished an exhausting and bumpy 1,700- mile roll from his native village of Ratlam to the famous Hindu shrine of Vaishno- Devi in the Himalayan foothills.

He rolled - at a smart pace - across Rajasthan's burning deserts and survived Delhi's surreal traffic. He splashed along roads oozing with monsoon rain and mud, and, finally, ground himself into a low rolling gear for the uphill ascent to Vaishno-Devi.

'When I was rolling, I felt that each turn of my body was like the earth revolving in the universe,' said the holy man, who has long hair, a beard and whose forehead is caked with white and red paste in the shape of a plough or a Cadillac's fancy grillwork.

He was banging along through New Delhi's rush- hour traffic when he was spotted by Naresh Bedi, a prominent Indian film-maker. 'I couldn't believe my eyes. It was 115 degrees out, and there was this frail man rolling along in the lane with scooters and buses all over him, honking and belching smoke,' said Mr Bedi, who decided to follow the sadhu with his camera.

His reputation as a devout holy man preceded him along his way across India, and when he finally rolled to a stop after completing up to 10 miles a day, Lotan Baba was often kept awake trying to heal sick villagers who believed his extreme devotion had given him mystical powers.

This saint is rolling into Battersea, he claims, for 'World Peace and Harmony'. But Lotan Baba has another, more private reason for visiting London: he wants to see the Guinness Book of Records people. 'My only wish now is for my feat to be recorded in the Guinness Book,' he beamed.

Lotan Baba's readiness to roll may perhaps have another explanation: he has also, as penance, spent seven years standing upright, rooted to one spot under his village banyan tree.

(Photograph omitted)

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