Political and military asceticism – a part of Hinduism

Rita Gupta


Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote Anand Math showing the Sanyasi rebellion against the British Army. The Sanayasi song, ‘Vande Matram’ became the unofficial song of Swadeshi movement; and after India’s independence, our national song. Anandmath was not all fiction.

The history of Indian nationalism during the British rule can’t be complete without the images of armed Sadhus opposing the British rule. Not many people know that Naga Sadhus attended the annual Congress meeting in Nagpur in 1920 and committed themselves to the anti-colonialist cause. According to the intelligence report of British Government’s informant:

These Sadhus visited most of the villages and towns and the masses had a high regard for them, and thought a great deal of their instructions and preachings. When these Nagas took up non-cooperation, the scheme would spread like wildfire among the masses of India and eventually, the Government would be unable to control 33 crores of people of India and would have to give Swaraj.

Gandhi urged the Nagas to “visit the vicinities of cantonments and military stations and explain to the native soldiers the advisability of giving up their employments.”

After the Nagpur meeting, the British government intelligence became extremely concerned about the activities of the people they termed “political Sadhus”. The role of the sadhus cannot be denied even during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Some rebels were actually Sadhus. Their presence may not be militarily significant, but their symbolic significance to the rebellion was considerable.

The armed sadhus were institutionally (and in some cases biological) descendents of Anupgiri Gosain, better known as Himmat Bhadur. He was an extremely successful military entrepreneur and a warlord-king of Northern India in the latter half of the eighteenth century. In 1757, the barbaric Afghan invader, Ahmed Shah attacked the Mathura region. Hindu Jats, under their prince Jawahar Singh fought the Afghan invader. 10,000 Hindu soldiers lost their lives; the city of Mathura was sacked and brutalized. Temples were ransacked; and thousands of women jumped into Yamuna River to escape rape and slavery. While dispatching 20,000 troops to Vrindavan, Ahmed Khan told his commanders Jahan Khan and Najib:

Move into the boundaries of the accursed Jat, and in every town and district held him slay and plunder. The city of Mathura is a holy place of the Hindus; … let it be put entirely to the edge of the sword. Up to Agra leave not a single place standing.

Vrindavan saw the worst massacre of inoffensive sadhus. After the carnage, an Islamic diarist recorded the Vrindavan massacre thus:

Wherever you gazed you beheld heaps of slain; you could only pick your way with difficulty, owing to the quantity of bodies lying about and the amount of blood split. At one place that we reached we saw about 200 dead children in a heap. Not one of the bodies had a head!

After the fall of Vrindavan, Afghans moved towards Gokul. Here, hearing the atrocities of Afghans, thousands of ash smeared Naga sadhus armed with swords, matchlocks and canons had called together their wandering bands to rise in the defense of Dharma. These bands of sadhus provided protection to temples, travel routes and even towns in 17th century. During the Islamic invasion in Northern India, and the fall of the Mughal Empire, they emerged as a serious force to reckon with.

In Gokul, the relentless Nagas held a wild and reckless charge against the Afghan Cavalry. Naga sadhus, who have already renounced the world, had little regard for their own lives. Their fierce counter attack left the Afghan attackers confused and they retreated to their defeat. But some time later, the Afghans returned reinforced and a bitter struggle took place. Both fought with zeal and valour. While the Afghans fought for loot, plunder and rape, Naga sadhus fought only for Dharma and faith. Naga sadhus did not give ground to Afghan attackers.

Abdali’s otherwise undefeated soldiers were helpless in front of the Naga sadhus. Abdali threw more troops in the battle but they also met with renewed charges and attacks from Naga Sanyasis. Soon the Afghans began to lose hope of victory and their leader Jahan Khan called a retreat and the Afghans fell back in defeat and humiliation. And thus, they saved the holy town of Gokul.

All sadhus in Indian tradition carry some sort of weapon with them whether it is a Trishul or a Chimta. All ancient gurus imparted equal knowledge of Shaastras, politics and warfare in their Gurukuls. Whenever the Dharma is in danger, our sages have risen to protect it. If our sanayasis, even after renouncing the worldly possessions, can pick weapons and fight the enemy; why can’t a Yogi be the Chief Minister of a state? Think about it!

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