Naga Sadhus are a particular group of Shaivite saints who reside in the Himalayan Caves and come to visit the civilization only during the Kumbh Mela. This is the only event when these ascetic saints can be seen amongst the general Indian population.
The Naga Sadhus have unique characteristic features drawing inspiration from the famous Hindu god Shiva. They hold tridents crowned with human skulls. Their bodies are smeared in thick ash and they wear heavy coils of matted hair on the head. These saints remain completely naked even during biting cold. They smoke Marijuana through a pipe called a Chillum or Shiv Muli. They use it as a tool to avoid the worldly distraction yet have self-control even in the intoxicated state. But as they advance in spiritual life they renounce intoxication too. The Naga Sadhus renounce the materialistic world and practice celibacy to escape from the cycle of birth and death and to attend salvation. As they belong to the Shaivite sect, they have matted locks of hair and their bodies are covered in ash like Lord Shiva.
The Naga Sadhus were founded by Dattatreya during ancient times such that the date of the foundation is lost. The ancient period was perhaps an age when humans never stressed the importance of time. Shankaracharya was the first one to organize the Nagas to protect Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism).
The place where the Naga Sadhus live is called ‘Akharas.’ The member of an ‘Akhara’ should always be ready for an intellectual fight and even for wrestling.
The Naga Sadhus – part of a mysterious and secret society – are worshippers of Lord Shiva. Nag means ‘naked’ and hence they are known as Nag Babas or Warrior-Ascetics. The rarely appear in public and the Kumbh Mela is one of those rare public events.
The Nag Babas are a warrior class and are divided like a regiment in an army. They have no fear of death and enraging them is a sure shot call for trouble. Their attributes are the trident, sword, stick, conch shells, other weapons and musical instruments which reflect their warrior status.
Naga Sadhus – often misunderstood by the western media as part of Indian religious gimmicks – are the epitome of renunciation. They hardly care whether they are misunderstood or called the naked holy men of India or ash-smeared and naked Hindu saints and walk unshaken on the path they have sworn for life.