[Himachal GK] C W De Russet - French Sadhu of Shimla

C W De Russet had moved from France to India in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. He was a deft tailor but when he started visiting Shimla with his friend T. Reincke in 1850s, he was so impressed by the natural beauty of the town that he switched over to camera-clicking and then to commercial photography that brought Shimla, along with other metropolis of the country, as a top
centre of marketable photography.

C W De Russet

When Shepherd and Robertson moved from Agra to Shimla in 1864 and established themselves as photographers of merit, De Russet withdrew from camera work and established himself as general contractor. Charles de Russet was his son and Old Cottanian Association Record shows that he was in the Bishop Cotton School in 1872. Charles de Russet had developed interest in Indian asceticism and mysticism immediately after he completed his school education. He came in contact with Baba (probably Mangal Das) of Jakhu temple and impressed by his preaching embraced the life of a Sadhu in 1880s.

He rejected his European uprising and abandoned Christianity for Hinduism. He bequeathed the property that he had inherited to his sisters keeping nothing to himself and led a life of disciple of the Baba of Jakhu. He would sleep outside in the open and take food that was given to him by his devotees. Because he was a foreigner embracing their religion, the local Hindus held him in high esteem. He then shifted to a temple near Annandale ground in Kaithu and started donning a leopard skin and wore matted hair.

Meanwhile, John Campbell Oman, born in Kolkata to Scot tea-planters, who rose to be professor of natural sciences in Government College Lahore was collecting material for his book ‘The Mystics, Ascetics and Saints of India’ happened to meet this French Sadhu in 1894.

Professor Oman has done extensive touring throughout the length and breadth of this country, interviewing many saints and has written scholarly books on Hinduism, Brahmanism and the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana.

When he met the French Sadhu here, he found him disinclined to talk about the reasons for abandoning Christianity in favour of Hinduism.

He found out that Charles De Russet ‘did not regret the step he had taken, and that he was well satisfied with his condition and mode of life as a Hindu devotee, a sanyasi.

The professor had in one of his books quoted a passage from Sir Monier Williams’s Indian poetry that appeared fitting into the mindset of Charles, “the performance of penances was like making deposits in the bank of Heaven. By degrees an enormous credit was accumulated, which enabled the depositor to draw on the amount of his savings, without fear of his drafts being refused payment. The power gained in this way by weak mortals was so enormous that gods, as well as men, were equally at the mercy of these all but omnipotent ascetics” prof. Oman wrote that Charles commanded the highest respect from natives though he found him to be of mediocre intelligence.

He used to live idly, happy and contended, even when it snowed heavy in the mountains. Discoursing about the virtues and vices, Charles had told the professor that it was not necessary to be a Christian in order to lead a virtuous life. O.C. Sud writes that this Baba left Shimla in the company of sadhus after this and was never heard of but suddenly returned here in 1926 as Baba Must Ram and took over the charge of Jakhu temple. He had, by this time, mastered the Hindu scriptures and the people were awed by his knowledge. According to Sud, he died on the December 27, 1927 and was cremated on Jakhu peak.

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