The Majestic Vision of Madhusudana Sarasvati, Our Eternal Debt to the Naga Sadhus and the Eternal Stupidity of Warren Hastings

The Majestic Vision of Madhusudana Sarasvati, Our Eternal Debt to the Naga Sadhus and the Eternal Stupidity of Warren Hastings

The luminous Advaita philosopher, Acharya Madhusudana Sarasvati interceded with Akbar to protect Hindu Sanyasis and founded the Akhada system. The Naga Sadhus took his inspiration and organised an armed resistance against Muslim hordes and protected Hindu pilgrims at Varanasi and Prayag against Muslim hordes. This great tradition was continued up to the Sanyasi Movement against the British.

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मधुसूदनसरस्वत्याः पारं वेत्ति सरस्वती

पारं वेत्ति सरस्वत्याः मधुसूदनसरस्वती ||

madhusūdanasarasvatyāḥ pāraṃ vetti sarasvatī pāraṃ vetti sarasvatyāḥ madhusūdanasarasvatī ||

Only Sarasvati knows the limits of the knowledge of Madhusūdana Sarasvati |
And Madhusūdana Sarasvati knows the limits of the knowledge of Goddess Sarasvati ||

The name of the titanic Advaita Acharya Madhusudana Sarasvati deservedly remains etched in gold in the multiple annals of Sanatana Darshana, cultural rejuvenation, and most importantly, for his pioneering service to the cause of lighting the blazing Agni of the latent Kshatra among the Hindu community throughout a Bharatavarsha that was reeling under the incessant barbarism of Muslim onslaughts. The fire of his erudition and the force of his speech revealed themselves at their brightest when he laid the foundations of what later became known as the Akhada system of Sadhus and Sanyasis.

The circumstances leading to this system also open another dark chapter of the reality of the Muslim rule, especially, the Mughal rule of medieval India. Even in “peacetime,” it was the habit of random Muslim hordes to launch unprovoked assaults against Sadhus, Sanyasis and Sants. The underlying psychology was to weaken and demoralise the larger Sanatana society bit by bit by harassing or killing these Sadhus.

Fed up with, but not afraid of this, Madhusudana Sarasvati decided to step in and take this mad bull of collective fanaticism by its horns. He directly met Akbar “the great” and told him in so many words: our Sanyasis are repeatedly suffering the twin blows of the Mleccha rule and the intolerance of Muslim Fakirs. If you want to retain your fair name as the “Shelter of the World,” make arrangements to protect our Sanyasis from these hordes. Or allow us to make these arrangements for our own protection.

Akbar acquiesced.

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Madhusudana Sarasvati set to work immediately. In a feat that can only be called superhuman, he sounded the trumpet to the Sanatana society. People from any Varna were free to join his new initiative for safeguarding Sanatana Dharma. Thousands of warrior-minded Hindus from all Varnas were initiated into Sanyasa, and a new system was born with the explicit purpose of protecting the ancient, timeless and original Dharma of this land.

When Madusudana Sarasvati returned from Agra after meeting Akbar, the Naga Sanyasis organised a mammoth conference at Varanasi offering their vocal and unqualified support to him. A carefully-buried fact of the history of the Naga Sadhus is this: they were the first armed defenders of Hindu pilgrims to Varanasi (and in general, Prayag, etc) against the attacking Muslim barbarians. This is the primary reason Naga Sadhus occupy such an esteemed position and have earned reverence till date at festivals like Kumbha Mela. They are the original frontline warriors in the defence of the Sanatana society and Dharma, killing for it, dying in its service.

Over time, the seeds that Madhusudana Sarasvati planted, bore fruit. Apart from the Naga sect, the Gosai (or Goswami) and other schools too, began to emerge and flourish in a big way.

This climate also proved highly conducive to the birth of the Ramananda, Vallabhacharya, Nimbaraka sects, all of which had their respective units of Yogi-Warriors. All of them keenly grasped the living reality that Hindus were living in brutal circumstances and that Kshatra, or the warrior spirit was the urgent, inevitable need of the hour. Prior to the 16th century, the Sikh sect which had emphasised more on the Darshana (philosophical, spiritual) aspect of their school, eventually began to stress on its valorous side.

Protecting our Swarajya

The French traveler Tavernier records that there were about twelve lakh Sanyasis and eight lakh Fakirs in India at the beginning of the 17th century.

In North India, several groups of Sanyasis collected private tax and launched raids of plunder. They had also undertaken the task of organizing and supervising spiritual events of a sprawling nature like the Kumbha Mela. It is a rather depressing footnote of history that such spiritual fairs which were in the hands of Sanyasis are now in the hands of politicians.

As recent as 1764, when the British mounted an aggressive campaign against Nawab Vazir of Avadh, it was precisely the Sadhus and Sanyasis who rushed in first to defend him.

The essence of all this history is simply this: the Sanyasi Movement which erupted in 1770 and continued unremittingly for several decades wasn’t accidental. It was entirely consonant with and was merely the continuation of a long tradition.

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The activities of the Sanyasis and Fakirs continued without interruption until the beginning of the 19th century. After that, the British initiated a series of highly repressive measures to control them. As a consequence, the confrontational nature of the Sanyasi groups lost its edge. However, even in the succeeding decades, the Dharmic and spiritual activities of the Nagas and the Aghoris continued without break. Even in our own time, in the 21st century, all Akhadas of North India have a substantial number of followers.

Then there is the other cardinal point: throughout their history, these Sanyasis, Sadhus, Bairagis and Fakirs sought to preserve their uniqueness. However, during the Great Resistance to foreign rule in the second half of the 18th century, all of them presented a united front merging their differences in this national war. Thus, it is clear that deep inside, they regarded this war as a National Movement, which in turn birthed a chain of such Movements.

It is quite rare for Hindu Sanyasis, Bairagis, Muslim Fakirs and Punjabi Akalis to come together as one unit. However, all of these groups are underscored by several commonalities. Some of these include an unquenchable love of freedom, self-reliance, and an abiding Shraddha (conviction) that they are all Dharma-Veeras.

Akhada Wrestling Bout
Akhada Wrestling BoutGoogle Image Search

The very idiom, Akhada relates to wrestling. Even today, the influence of the Akhadas in North India is so thick and enduring that a huge chunk of the youth of that society engage in wrestling or regular, strenuous physical exercise. This society regards the inculcation and development of such a physical culture as a healthy marker. The renowned flutist Sri Hari Prasad Chaurasia (and other musicians) is a trained wrestler. Gadhadhari Hanuman is the presiding deity of wrestling.

In a letter dated March 20, 1774 to Lawrence Sullivan, Warren Hastings proudly boasted that he would uproot the Sanyasi groups from their dwellings. However, he missed a fundamental point: how does one uproot a people who had no permanent residence, how does one evict wandering monks? Indeed, Hastings had to spend an enormous sum of money and invest huge efforts spread over months to bring in even a modicum of control over the Sanyasis.

The Sanyasis had the selfless support of locals wherever they went. Thus, the Government had to wage war against the entire population itself.

Historical Importance of the Sanyasi Movement

According to British records, the Sanyasi Freedom Movement was a short-lived episode involving limited groups of people. Other important British accounts don’t even mention the episode, or at best, devote a few lines to it.

However, when we study the backdrop of the Sanyasi Freedom Movement and the far-reaching impact it left, its historical importance immediately strikes us. But it is not difficult to understand the radio silence of these “official” British records. In the British view, the Great War of 1857 was—and remains—a mere “mutiny.” But when we examine the other sources of that event, we get a vastly different picture.

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Indeed, when we note even a minor detail, the cardinal importance of the Sanyasi Movement becomes pronouncedly clear. We need to recall the fact that during that period, British colonial imperialism was regarded as the most powerful global force. Yet, a handful groups of Sanyasis took this global force head on and in just a space of two years, wrested a sweeping swathe of geography encompassing Rajshahi, Rangpur, Purni, Dinajpur, and Dacca. The massive industrial factories at Rampurbalia, Dacca and elsewhere were completely under the control of Sanyasis.

Given all this and more, it is indisputable that the Sanyasi Movement remains an epoch of great historical significance and that it was an elephantine stride in the struggle for national independence.

In fact, in many ways, the Great War of 1857 which followed the Sanyasi Movement was merely its continuation.

On a profound level, to recall the Bhagavad Gita’s words, the Sanyasi Movement was the matchlock lit by the Sadhu-Shakti of Bharatavarsha to awaken our people to the Dharma-Glani (decline of Dharma) that had occurred.

However, it also remains an unforgivable crime that this glorious epoch has been completely omitted from “mainstream” history.


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