“He tracks his enemies and finds them in their jungle hideaways. He shows his long-armed compassion for the poor on festival days. He gives to support the dharma and is the clothing that covers the Hindu shame. He is the embodiment of both radiant splendour and insatiable demonic ways.” - Padmakar, Himmatbahadur Birdavali, ca 1793
This ancient text describes a Gosain—namely, Himmat Bahadur Anupgiri Gosain—a type of Shaivite warrior-ascetic. Gosains, (also known as Gossains and as Goswami) are Hindu ascetics with nomadic and mercenary roots. Terrible and fierce as much as benevolent and calm, these part holy men, part mercenaries embrace the extremes of the poles. This contradictory nature of Gosains is seen very much as a mirror of Shiva—the supreme deity that they believe in. Gosain warrior ascetics were an essential component of the South Asian military labour market in medieval times. Thought to be limited only to the imagination now, Gosains inspire wonder in us as examples of how existence can happen simultaneously at both extremes.
Pictured here is a Gosain warrior ascetic wearing a permanent iron collar in the shape of a nine-pointed star, renouncing comfort as a way to spiritual liberation. It’s an intriguing print that reminds us how humans are complex enough to hold both chaos and serenity, existing part animal, part star.
✺ Gosain warrior-ascetic screen-printed art. Single colour.
Part animal, part star: single-colour screen-print