Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Mon Aug 18 17:30:49 CDT 1997

On Mon, 18 Aug 1997, Jaldhar H. Vyas wrote:


> A small digression but somewhat relevant to the discussion at hand.  What
> about the sannyasis we call in Gujarati "Naga bawas"[1]?  As
> the name suggests they are usually naked or lightly dressed and usually
> live in jungles away from people.  But on occasions like kumbha melas[2]
> they parade in regiments carrying trishuls and other weaponry.  There are
> many historical accounts of how they used to fight the Muslims or
> Vaishnava sannyasis. They are dashanamis and they consider the
> Shankaracharyas as their leaders but obviously they are going by something
> other than the dictionary definition of ahimsa.

There is a legend associated with the origin of the nAgas, which could
well be quite historical. It is said that madhusUdana sarasvatI, the
author of advaita-siddhi, was a contemporary of Akbar, the Mughal emperor.
With the help of Birbal and some Rajput princes, madhusUdana sarasvatI is
supposed to have petitioned Akbar for armed support to defend the kumbha
mela congregation from the persecution of the Muslim governors.

North Indian society seems to have been highly militaristic in those days,
and Akbar suggested that instead of seeking state support, some of the
daSanAmIs should take to arms and defend themselves. So, madhusUdana
sarasvatI is supposed to have inducted large numbers of kshatriyas into
the sannyAsin orders of purI, bhAratI and sarasvatI, so that they could
bring their martial legacy with them. Their martial involvement has lead
to another oral tradition that half of them are not real sannyAsins at
all. These sannyAsins eventually formed themselves into little army units,
consisting mostly of mercenaries, constituting a significant portion of
any Rajput army.

In fact, the organization of daSanAmI sannyAsins into akhADas is
traditionally attributed to Sankara himself, but many records indicate
that it was madhusUdana sarasvatI who was really responsible for the
akhADa structure that is found today. This probably explains why the nAga
sAdhus are predominantly found in the north. In southern India, the
akhADas are quite non-existent, and the various maThas are the only signs
of institutionalized sannyAsa. There are many details about the nAgas in a
history written by Sir Jadunath Sarkar, and a recent, more comprehensive
history of the entire daSanAmI order written by Swami Sadananda Giri
(Kriyayoga Ashram, Rishikesh).


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