Ascetic life was historically a life of renunciation, non-violence and spiritual pursuit. However, in India, this has not always been the case. For example, after the Mongol and Persian Islamic invasions in the 12th century, and the establishment of Delhi Sultanate, the ensuing Hindu-Muslim conflicts provoked the creation of a military order of Hindu ascetics in India. These warrior ascetics, formed paramilitary groups called ‘‘Akharas’’ and they invented a range of martial arts.
“Nath Siddhas” of the 12th century AD, may have been the earliest Hindu monks to resort to a military response after the Muslim conquest. Ascetics, by tradition, led a nomadic and unattached lifestyle. As these ascetics dedicated themselves to rebellion, their groups sought stallions, developed techniques for spying and targeting, and they adopted strategies of war against Muslim nobles and the Sultanate state. Many of these groups were devotees of Hindu God Shiva, and were called “Mahants” in honor of their Lord who is referred as Mahadev (God of Gods). Other popular names for them was Sannyasis, Yogis, Nagas (followers of Lord Shiva), Bairagis (followers of Lord Vishnu) and Gosains from 1500 to 1800 AD.
Warrior monks continued their rebellion through the Mughal Empire, and became a political force during the early years of British Empire and colonization. In some cases, these regiments of soldier monks shifted from guerrilla campaigns to war alliances. The significance of warrior ascetics rapidly declined with the consolidation of British Empire in late 19th century, and with the rise in non-violence movement by Mahatma Gandhi.
It is said that some of these Hindu Warrior Ascetics were treated as folk heroes, aided by villagers and townspeople, because they targeted figures of political and economic power in a discriminatory state, and some of these warriors paralleled Robin Hood’s lifestyle.