Naga sadhus: the warrior ascetics

Naga_sadhuHindu spirituality in its profound diversity has given rise to many religious sects for all grades of character. These include several ascetic groups that have existed since antiquity. One large and prominent Shaiva sect consists of the ‘warrior ascetics’, or Nagas (the ‘naked’), who have existed since the prehistoric past.

Though sadhus in general can be characterized as peace-loving, the Nagas used to be extremely militant, fighting with rival sects, the Muslims and later even the British. Their lack of worldly attachments meant they by and large had no fear of death.

Traces of this ‘macho’ attitude are still discernible today. The Naga sect is subdivided into Akharas, i.e. ‘regiments’, like an army.

Their bellicose past is visible in their display of weaponry – sticks, spears, swords and especially the trident – but nowadays these have a mostly symbolic function..

They roam virtually naked and participate in intense meditation and worships and extreme penance with the idea of transcending identification of the soul with the body. The ascetics still try to punish transgressors of dharma and serve society. Recently in the criminalised Indian state of Bihar where kidnapping of young women is alarmingly common, they have been known to guard girls schools, in order to prevent rowdy groups of young men from harassing students.

Click here to read an account of the Naga sadhus heroic battle against in 1757 in defence of Gokul against the forces of Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Abdalli

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