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The Wall that protected Dharma: Naga Sadhus’ War for Vishwanath

Naga Sadhus! When we hear them, we assume a wrong perception of naked sadhus with ash on their body, un-tied hair, terrifying looks, impressions of them being associated with weird practices etc. Little is it known that they protected the Hindu religion many times. They are sacred infantry without payroll to protect their ‘Sanatana Dharma’ against Islamic invasion and then British. Naga Sadhus defended Gokul from the Afghans led by Sardar Khan and many temples for several centuries.

We are not told in history books that Naga Sadhus badly defeated Aurangzeb in Varanasi in 1664. Aurangzeb and his forces had come to plunder Kashi Vishwanath temple and more temples in the region. However, the Naga Sadhus defended the temple from the barbaric Mughal plunderers. Aurangzeb did not dare to attack Varanasi again until 1669. Our academic has no mention of this victory of the Naga Sadhus against Aurangzeb. Instead, the Mughal ruler has been profusely glorified. Besides no other historians or scholars have ever mentioned this victory openly in their works.

Nagas’s guru was Dattatreya, the incarnation of the Trinity-Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahadev. The Dashanami sampradaya of the monastic tradition attributed to Dattatreya was organized into four mutts by Adi Shankaracharya. Besides the mutts, he also organized a section of warrior sadhus to protect Sanatana Dharma. Later they came to be known as Naga Sadhus. They have no fear of death and their weapons have been the trishul, sword and stick. They also carry other weapons including musical instruments and conch shells.

Naga Sadhus were reorganized by Madhusudana Saraswati of Bengal in the 16th century to protect Hindus from the tyranny of the Mughals. Madhusudana Saraswati, a philosopher from the Advaita Vedanta tradition, was a contemporary of Akbar. Witnessing attacks on Sadhus by Akbar’s court in Agra and complained to him. When his complaint was not addressed, he reorganized the Naga Sadhus and initiated them into action to protect Hindus from atrocities meted out by Muslims.

Though many historians do not believe in this theory, few historians justify it to be true. William R. Pinch in his book Soldier Monks and Militant Sadhus has described its historical basis. Irrespective of the debate on whether this theory is true or not there is evidence that after Madhusudana’s return from Agra, Naga Sadhus assembled in Varanasi and took an oath to defend Hindus.

Baba Rampuri in his book Autobiography of a Sadhu: A Journey into Mystic India has given a detailed account of Naga Sadhus and their Akharas. An American born William A. Gans, he is probably, as he claims, the first Westerner to become a Naga Sadhu after he got answers to his questions on truth from Indian philosophy and culture. At present, he is the Shri Mahant at Shri Panch Dashnam Juna Akhara.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas and is at least as old as the Mahabharata era.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple was attacked several times by Islamic plunderers. It was first destroyed by Qutb-ud-din Aibak in 1194 CE. He was then a commander under the army of Mohammad Ghori. The destroyed ruins lay neglected for a few years. Like most other temples, this temple was also rebuilt. The rebuilding was done under the patronage of a Gujarati trader before the mid-13th century. Kashi was plundered again by the Sharqi rulers of the Jaunpur Sultanate followed by the Muslim army of Sikandar Lodhi in the 15th century. It was rebuilt by Raja Todar Mal in the latter part of the 16th century, i.e. in 1585.

Aurangzeb attacked Varanasi again after four years, in 1669, and vandalized the temple. He built a mosque in its place called the Gyanvapi mosque. This mosque still exists in the temple premise.

There are very few recorded events of Hindu warriors or local communities offering resistance to save temples and to save the land. It is said the British set on fire and destroyed many such written records, thus destroying evidence of victories and resistance. Oral history and local historical folklore that have been passed down from one generation to another do have some credibility.

For example, the historical folklores of Alha Udal-Bundelkhand warriors defeating Turks, Karnavati of Garhwal defeating Shah Jahan’s forces in Garhwal, Naiki Devi of Gujarat defeating Mohammed Ghori and more valorous events have literary evidence too. When Aurangzeb attacked Varanasi the second time in 1669, Naga Sadhus must have retaliated to their last breath. The Islamic plunderers have always followed tactics of deceit and treachery in warfare. According to local folklore and oral narrations, around 40,000 Naga Sadhus sacrificed their lives, defending Kashi Vishwanath Jyotirling.

We owe a lot to our ancient sadhus and Sri Adi Shankaracharya who took the responsibility of protecting Sanatana Dharma. Sri Adishankarachaya wanted the Naga Sadhus to increase their number and contributions in order to protect Dharma from invaders.

About the author – Chirag Dhankhar is currently a B.A. 2ND Year Pashto Language student at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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