17 Shringars : How Nagas purify self before Royal Bath

Naga sages courtesy Google

Spiritual beautification: Nagas are said to indulge in 17 types of Shringar believed to be more complex than the 16 shringars women indulge in………

To deck oneself up, in terms of a woman is called Shringar, in Hindi. Essentially, a woman has 16 types of Shringar or beautification that they indulge in, however a Naga Sanyasi indulges in 17 different forms of Shringar.

Every Naga sage has his own style of looks and tika in specific. Many are even fierce by mannerisms, but the 17 types of Shringar is an inextricable part of any Naga sage. This is something that is followed religiously before going for a Shahi snana.

It is learnt, Nagas first deck themselves up, then they pray to their respective gods and gurus and then they go for their shahi snan. Of the 17 Shringars are a langot ( a piece of cloth or the lioncloth ), ash, sandal(chandan), iron or silver bangles also called kada, those with long hair properly brush it and groom it, a garland of flowers is worn along their waste, a tika sacred roli are applied. Nagas strictly wear a rudraksha garland which is considered an auspicious entity. They also carry a damroo (mini drum), pliers and a pot or kamandal as other adornments.

Nagas claim, people take a dip in the holy Ganges for purification but for them it is purification first before they take the dip. The learned claim, Nagas are pure at heart and are by and large simple in nature. They keep playing around in their akhara and it is like their den, where they bring the environment alive.

Hours before the Nagas go for a Shahi Snan, each Sadhu undergoes a cleansing exercise. This exercise of grooming with adornments is believed to be tougher than the 16 Shringars of a woman.

Before indulging in the process of decking oneself up and going for the Shahi Snan, the Nagas stay awake for one whole night and pray to Lord Shiva. They also pray to the deity of the akhara concerned.

Question remains, are the seventeen shringars about show or do they have some significance? Well sages and the learned claim, these have their own meaning. According to them, there is a physical, astrological and yogic interpretation of every element of Shringar.

The tilak represents the official deity of the specific Akhada. If for Aavahan akhada it is symbolic of Ganesha, for Juna, it is Maharaj Dattatreya. A tika and its position is also symbolic. It is claimed, its being at the centre of the forehead, between the eyebrows is relevant as, this is the point of the body’s agya chakra. The tilak it is believed boosts concentration. The ash is something that cuts the Nagas away from the world, giving them a unique identity. The tika, the damroo, the trident, the tilak, the matter hair, all are symbols to show that one is a follower of Shiva.

The inception of the Shringar tradition is from the time the sect was a fighting force. The Nagas were warriors who were raised to save the Sanatan dharma. Like every army, they have their unique style of getting ready and displaying their strength.

The Naga Shringar has also been documented in books. The Dandeshwar Vidhaanam — a set of rules prepared by Adi Shankaracharya prescribes the Shringar to be done by a Naga Sanyasi.

Interestingly, there is a seventeenth item on the Nagas’ Shringaar list – one which they claim separates them from the rest of the world. Ash or ‘bhaboot’, they say, establishes their unification with the supreme god.

There are a total of 5 important days for snanas during the Kumbh Mela, of which 3 fall in the category of Shahi Snana.

All 13 akharas on the day of the Shahi snana take a holy dip, while following a set order which was set way back during the British period. The Naga sadhus, a martial order of ascetics move about either naked or scantily clad with matted hair and ash smeared amongst various other shringars use before the royal bath.

The procession of moving into the water is a spectacle in itself as the head of the group of ascetics in question is perched atop an elephant, horse and chariots which are beautifully decorated. These sights and musical bands are a unique blend of austerity.

The first to move out are Mahanirvani and Atal Akharas, followed by Niranjani and Anand and then Joona, Awahan and Agni.

They are further followed by Nirvani Ani, Digambar Ani and Nirmohi and Naya Udasin, Bara Udasin and Nirmal akharas in the same order. History has it, in the past this order was fixed in the British period when a clash erupted among ascetics of different akharas at a Kumbh congregation.

Each akhara has a fixed and allotted time. The time ranges from 30 minutes to about an hour. The timing depends on the size of the respective procession. Even the routes taken to go for the royal bath is taken into consideration here. The idea is to keep members of rival akhadas apart from each other so as to avoid a clash.

On the whole the 17 Shringars, the royal bath and the idea of cleansing oneself before going into the holy Ganges are interlinked. While for the Naga Sadhus, this is a ritual which is not only a show of pride and strength but also living up to the tradition that has been  followed over ages; for common man it is about realizing how in some of the simplest of people lies the complex.

The Nagas in other words have both shades of the simple and the complex. The multiple mysteries surrounding them remain, and in future too will.

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