The term Gosain – a Siva monk – meant control of sensesâ and the term Bairagi – a Vishnu monk – meant bereft of emotionsâ, qualities essential for a warrior. These monks could even turn up naked on the battlefield without any defensive armour, to show their opponents their power and fearlessness. Therefore they were often called naga – nakedâ -ascetic warrior. In battle they were notorious for their fighting capabilities and their obedience to their guru-commander.
According to Pinch these ascetic mercenaries were in fact categorised as Sadhus! This is both how they defined themselves and how other observers perceived them. For instance many of the ascetic warriors maintained that they were Dasnamis (Siva monks) directly descended from Sankara, the founder of Non-dual Vedanta and monasteries. Other groups of ascetic warriors were originally monastic (Siva) Samnyasins and Gosains. Even the ascetics Bairagis – who had a Vishnu monastic background, which is normally understood as being peaceful – also took up arms as a profession in the 17 century. Indeed some of the first groups to become ascetic warriors were the Kanphata jogis and Nath jogis – founded by Gorakhnath.
However it is one thing for a social stratum to link itself to high status monks. It is another thing if these ascetic warriors were actually members of monastic orders. However such a question presumes that we can clearly make distinctions between Sadhus and vagabonds, which the insert below clearly indicate that we cannot.