One of the most prominent Sadhu sects, the Juna Akhara, consists of the warrior-ascetics
or Nagas (the naked). They smear their bodies with holy ash and sport long matted hair,
symbolic of their devotion to Lord Shiva, generally known as the God of destruction, but
to Sadhus better known as the Lord of Yoga.
The Nagas importance is emphasised at the Mela as they lead the millions of pilgrims in a
procession to the sandy banks of the Ganges on the main bathing day.
There is a long history of militant asceticism and the Nagas were recruited and organised
into militant armed bands to defend the Hindus against the onslaught of the invading Muslims.
Their performances at the Kumbh Mela recall their martial heritage with weapon and wrestling displays.
There are also militant ascetics who follow Vishnu, rather than Shiva, and these are called
Bairagis. The regiments of militant Bairagis are similar to the Akhara organisations of the
Nagas. Even though all bairagis wear clothing nowadays, some sections are also called Nagas,
as they used to be naked in the past.
Though bairagis are well respected, the more important are the Shaivite Akharas, especially
the Juna Akhara, this is illustrated by their leading role in the Kumbh processions.