Gokul 1757 : War of the Nagas ~ Shiva’s Sacred Warriors


Amongst the sacred points of pilgrimages of Hinduism one of the most popular regions centre around the fabled birthplace and playground of Sri Krishna known as the Braj Matsya region. This area centred around the south of Delhi is annually visiting today as in the past by thousands of the faithful often humbly treading the paths between Mathura, Vrindavan and Gokul.

However in 1757 the sacred soil of Gokul was streaming with blood. The invasion of the Afghan invader Ahmed Shah Abdali sent hordes of his soldiers pouring into the holy places. After a desperate resistance by the Hindu Jats under their prince Jawahar Singh and the death of 10,000 of his solders the city of Mathura was sacked and brutalised.

Amidst the wholesale destruction of temples and holy places thousands of women flung themselves into the Yamuna River to escape rape and slavery. Vrindavan faced a similar horror. He had detached Jahan Khan and Najib with 20,000 men, telling them,

[box_light]“Move into the boundaries of the accursed Jat, and in every town and district held by 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”[/box_light]

Vrindavan, seven miles north of Mathura, could not escape, as its wealth was indicated by its many temples. Here another general massacre was practiced upon the inoffensive monks of the most pacific order of Vishnu’s worshippers, (c. 6 March.) As the same Muhammadan diarist records after a visit to Vrindavan,

[box_light]“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 spilt. At one place that we reached we saw about 200 dead children lying in a heap. Not one of the dead bodies had a head . . . The stench and effluvium in the air were such that it was painful to open your mouth or even to draw breath.”[/box_light]

The prime general of the Afghans, Sardar Khan ; launched an attack on Gokul. Here however stirred by the atrocities of the Afghans thousands of ash smeared warrior monks barred the way. The grim Naga sadhus armed with swords, matchlocks and cannons had called together their wandering bands to rise in defence of dharma.

In the mid seventeenth century the bands of sadhus and assorted holy men coalesced into larger groups often numbering more than 10,000 strong – they provided protection to the temples, the travel routes and even towns and rival armies. For many centuries the monks and disciples began to take up arms amidst the upheavals of northern India and during the fall of the Mughal Empire they emerged as a serious force to reckon with.

One of their notable leaders Rajendra Giri Gosain held such a reputation of bravery that his band of Nagas would contend with over ten times their numbers of enemies with utter abandon and fury. Later times saw some of the larger bands under Himmat Bahadur and Anupgir Gosain lead vast armies across the northern Indian plains

The famed Afghan cavalry launched itself against the Nagas to be met with a wild and reckless counter charge by the Nagas. The utter disregard for their own lives displayed by the Hindu holy men sent the initial Afghan attackers retreating in confusion and defeat. Reinforced some time later the Afghans returned to the attack and a bitter struggle ensued.

Both parties believed they fought for a higher power but the similarities ended there. The Afghans fought for loot, plunder and rape whilst the Naga Sadhus had already given up their worldly and material attachments and in a long tradition of warfare fought solely for dharma and faith. The Afghans fought with the reckless valour for which they were much wonted and the Nagas fought with a determination that spoke of their contempt of death.

The battle cry of ‘Har Har Mahadev’ and ‘Ya Ali’ rose above the groans and shrieks of the wounded and dying. The battle raged as dusk fell and the protagonists continued their fight stepping on the bodies of the slain until the writer observes grappling in a deathly embrace whilst slipping on the mounds of gore and blood flowing on the hallowed grounds. Still the Nagas did not give ground.

Enraged the Abdali threw further troops into the battle. His as yet undefeated soldiers who had marched victoriously from the borders of India to Central Asia were met with renewed charges and attacks from the Naga Sanyasis. They fought so desperately that the Afghans began to lose hope of victory and as their losses rapidly mounted in the failing light their leader Sardar Jahan Khan called a retreat and the Afghans fell back in defeat and humiliation  leaving many thousands of their brethren dead and wounded on the battlefield. The holy town of Gokul was saved but at an appalling cost in lives.

The Naga Sadhus saved the shrines of their faith and the thousands of refugees behind them. They exemplified the age old tradition of valour mixed with dharma – the concept of rising in arms each time they were required. They went on to fight bitter decade’s long struggles with the British expansion in India to be so famously celebrated in the late nineteenth century novel Ananda Math. Their exploits became the inspiration for the freedom fighters of the 20th Century and the living image of the warrior saints can be found in India today.





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  1. Very inspiring – this brought a tear to my eye. And to think that the Naga Sadhus are often maligned and ridiculed both in the Indian educational establishment and in Engligh language media, and of course in TV documentaries.

  2. Yes, this article certainly brought a tear to my eye.Thanks! The Nagas are certainly maligned by the media and are often ridiculed for wielding swords and being intoxicated, by the media. This does make me wonder what is the Indian Media all about, is it really Marxist in its leanings bent on distorting History to the extent that we feel ashamed . The words of Rajiv Malhotra are resonating in my mind right now.

  3. Very informative and thought provoking. D Nagas r indeed a much misunderstood group of sanyasis.We r indebted to dem for der contribution in preserving our culture and pride.But I sincerely wish and hope dat d present generation of dis holy regiment of warriors takes a look around and rises to d occasion when we have more dan one Abdali in action throughout Bharat dat is India.

    • Every tym I read dis article its a new experience.A new thought provoked.Wonder if any Naga sanyasi of d day has gone thru it and given his views as to whats der role to be ,as de see it in d present day context….and see d plight of d nation as varying versions of Abdalis we have today and all roaming amidst us.

  4. I think this article needs some sort of referencing…. otherwise this great narrative will be just a story not fact.

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  6. Har Har Mahadev

    We Hindus will Slay those Devils who will think of Demolishing our Dharma…

    || Jai Naga Sadhu
    Gurudev Ki Jai
    Bholenath Ki Jai ||

  7. har har mahadev
    mai naga shadh pe vistrit jaankari chahta hu if u know abt these…to kripya sampark kre..
    jai mahadeva…e

  8. Cancel the Licences of Anti Hindustan Media ..which play a big role in what our country thinks today

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  10. Amazing! Wonder why these facts never made into our curriculum. At a minimum Ananda Math should be in our text books. Is it the same written Banking Chandra Chatterer?

  11. Hindus have been taught to insult their faith, heritage and culture. However the enemies of the Hindus are now running in retreat.
    Hinduism is now on the resurgence.