The tale of the 15ft beard

The old man with his 15ft beard in Burdwan's Bhandartikuri is unlikely to be missed.

The 95-year-old prefers teaching the philosophy of renunciation, but his beard, he says, pulls him down to worldly matters, much to his dislike.

Some of his disciples call him Dari Baba. He wishes to see his name in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest beard.

Born Ajitananda Maity in Contai in West Midnapore, he was a sportsman and a body builder in his youth and had won several district-level championships. His sports career ended 60 years ago when he decided to renounce "earthly pleasures" on meeting a hermit from the Himalayas.

"I learnt that a sportsman's real spirit was in distancing himself from all earthly pleasures. He asked me to grow a beard, saying regular shaving gave a man self-consciousness that he should give up," says Ajitananda.

After meeting the hermit, Ajitananda visited many places "in search of truth and God" and stopped shaving. He finally came to Bhandartikuri in Purbasthali of Kalna subdivision about 15 years ago and set up an ashram.

"I liked the village and the people here. They are simple and loving. They offered me a place to stay and I built the ashram there," he says.

His Bharat Yogashram now teaches yoga to both the elderly and the young. The village kids also come to this quiet place in the afternoons, sometimes to play with Ajitananda's long dari.

Menoka Rani Rana, 45, one of his disciples for 15 years, said: "The children call him Dari dadu and Baba enjoys this. He loves children."

Some of his young devotees ' Ramananda Thakur, Rabindranath Pal and Suraj Chowdhury ' want to see his name in the Guinness Book of World Records.

"The longest beard in the world at 17.5ft was of Hans Langseth of Norway. He died in 1927. His beard is kept in Smithsonian Institution in Norway. Currently, the record is held by Samsher Singh from Punjab. Singh is alive. Last measured, his beard was 6ft. Baba's beard is 15ft," Thakur says.

Thakur regularly checks the Internet to keep track of the longest beards across the world. "We are preparing the papers to forward them to the Guinness Book of World Record," he adds.

But Ajitananda doesn't like it.

"They are again trying to bring me back to the earthly matters. I have asked them to refrain from such things. I am an old man now and could die any day. What is the need for all this?" he asks, sitting in his thatched roof cottage at the ashram surrounded by trees.

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