Goswami History



Names for the Goswami

Goswami, Gosavi, Gosai, Gussai, Mahant, Jogi, Sanyasi, Dandi, Dashnami

A name for the orders of religious mendicants of the Shivaite sect, (the sect which worship Lord Shiv Shankara) from which a caste has now developed Dashnam Goswami are found all over India. The Sanskrit world Go signifies either five senses, a ray of light, or cow. So Goswami means, Master of the five senses (Pnachendriya), a ray of light or master of cow, its significance sometimes varies. Dashnam Goswami can be divided in to Gharbari (who marries) and Sanyasi (who do not marry) In Bengal the heads of Bairagi or Vaishanav monasteries are called Gosain and the priests of the Vishnuite Vallabhachrya sect are known as Gokulastha Gosain. But over most of the India, as in central provinces Gosain appears to be a name applied to member of the Shivate (Shayava panthi) order. Sannyasi means one who abandons the desires of the world and the body. Properly every Brahman should become a Sanyasi in the fourth stage or ashram of his life when after marrying and begetting a son to celebrate his funeral rites in the second stage, he should retire to the forest, become a hermit and conquer all the appetites and passions of the body in the third stage thereafter, when the process of mortification is complete he should beg his bread as a Sanyasi. But now days only those who enter the religions orders now becomes Sanyasis, and the name is therefore confined to them. Dasnami means the ten names, and refers to the ten orders in which the Gosains or Shivaite (the sect which worship Lord Shiv Shankara) anchorites are commonly classified. Sadhu’s generic term for a religions mendicant. The name Gosain is now more commonly applied to the married members of the caste, who pursue ordinary avocations, while the mendicants are known as Sadhu or Sanyasis.

Dasnami Sampradaya

One of the major achievements of Acharya Shankaracharya was to organize the Hindu monasticism. He divided the Hindu monks into ten sects called "Dasnami" and organized them under four heads with the Headquarters at Dwaraka in the West, Jagannatha Puri in the East, Rameswaram in the South and Badrikashrama in the North. These became the four sacred "Dhams", "Holy Places" of the Hindus. He also enumerated other details of the order of Hindu monks grouped under these heads for their identity. Although there are today a number of Hindu monastic sects, the most authentic are the ten established by Acharya Shankaracharya.

Brahmin Goswami

Brahmin Goswami is a typically a title bestowed on people who choose the path of Sannyasa. The sanyasins or disciples of Adi Shankaracharya are also called "Dash Nam" as the Title Goswami is further divided into ten groups viz. Giri, Puri, Bharti, Ban, Aranya, Sagar, Aashram, Saraswati, Tirth, Yogi and Parwat. These all Dashnam Goswami's are associated with four Math in four corners of India, established by Adi Shankaracharya. Initially all the disciples were Sanyasins who embraced sanyas either after marriage or without getting married. Since, sanyasins are considered as Brahmin therefore during the course of time, those who embraced married life on the order of their guru and their decedents are considered Brahmins with the surname Goswami. Being a Goswami Sanyasin includes a vow of celibacy. Some religious traditions use the title Swami for those who had never married, and Goswami for those who had been married in that life and vow not to marry again. This is also the source of the surname Gosain. Goswami can also refer to an individual from the Brahmin caste of the Hindu religion.

Dasanama Sanyasins

Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanat-Kumara and Sanat-Sujata were the four mind-born sons of Lord Brahma. They refused to enter the Pravritti Marga or worldly life and entered the Nivritti Marga or the path of renunciation. The four Kumaras were the pioneers in the path of Sannyasa. Sri Dattatreya also is among the original Sannyasins. The Sannyasins of the present day are all descendants of the four Kumaras, Dattatreya and Sankaracharya.

Sri Sankaracharya, regarded as an Avatara of Lord Siva and the eminent exponent of Kevala Advaita philosophy, established four Maths (monasteries) one at Sringeri, another at Dvaraka, a third at Puri and a fourth at Joshi Math in the Himalayas, on the way to Badrinarayana shrine.

Sri Sankara had four Sannyasin disciples, viz., Suresvara, Padmapada, Hastamalaka and Totaka. Suresvara was in charge of Sringeri Math, Padmapada was in charge of Puri Math, Hastamalaka was in charge of Dvarka Math and Totaka was in charge of Joshi Math.

The Sannyasins of Sringeri Math, the spiritual descendants of Sri Sankara and Suresvacharya, have three names, viz., Sarasvati, Puri and Bharati. The Sannyasins of the Dvaraka Math have two names, viz., Tirtha and Asrama. The Sannyasins of the Puri Math have two names, viz., Vana and Aranya. The Sannyasins of the Joshi Math have three names, viz., Giri, Parvata and Sagara.

The Dasanamis worship Lord Siva or Lord Vishnu, and meditate on Nirguna Brahman. The Dandi Sannyasins, who hold staff in their hands, belong to the order of Sri Sankara. Paramhansa Sannyasins do not hold staff. They freely move about as itinerant monks. Avadhutas are naked Sannyasins. They do not keep any property with them.

The Sannyasins of the Ramakrishna Mission belong to the order of Sri Sankara. They have the name Puri.

Then, there are Akhada Sannyasins, viz., Niranjana Akhada and Jhuni Akhda. They belong to the order of Sri Sankara. They are Dasanamis. They are found in the Uttar Pradesh State only.

Rishikesh and Haridwar are colonies for Sannyasins. Varanasi also is among the chief abodes of Sannyasins.

Dasanami's Math, Pada, Gotras
Dakshina - Amnaya (Southern) Paschima - Amnaya (Western) Purva - Amnaya (Eastern) Uttara - Amanaya (Northern)
Math - Monastery Shringeri Dwaraka JagannathPuri Jyotirdham
Pada - Order Puri, Sarasvati, Bharati Tirth, Ashram Vana, Aranya Giri, Parvat. Sagar
Acharya Sureswar Hastamalaka Padmapada Totakacharya
Sampradaya - Sect Bhurivara Keeravara Bhagavara Anandavara
Kshetra Rameswar Dwaraka Purushottam Badri-Kshetra
God - Deva Adi-Varaha Siddheswar Jagannatha Narayana
Upanishad Brihadaranyaka Chhandogya Taittiriya Mandukya
Veda Yajurveda Samaveda Rikveda Atharva-Veda
Mahavakya Aham-Brahmasmi Tattvamasi Prajnanum Brahma AyamAtma Brahma
Goddess Kamakshi - Sarada BhadraKali Vimala PurnaaGiri
Tirtha - River Tungabhadra GomatiTirtha Mahonadhi Alakananda
Gotra Bhaveswar Adhigata Kashyap Bhrigu
Madhi (Goswami's)
  1. Aparnath Madi
  2. Bodhek Madi
  3. Rudra Madhi
  4. Nagendra Madhi
  5. Kusmat Madhi
  6. Man Madi
  7. Maindh Madhi
  8. Premnadi Madi
  9. Madi Madhi
  10. Sagar Madi
  11. Bodh Madi
  12. Ratan Madi
  13. Sahaj Madi
  14. Ramddhit Madi
Ten Orders


The Gosains consider their founder to have been Shankaracharya, the great apostle of the revival of the worship of Siva in Southern India, who lived between the eighth centuries. He had four disciples Sureswar, Hastamalaka Padmapada, Totakacharya, from whom the ten order of Gosai's are derived. These are commonly defined as follows:

  1. Tirtha - A shrine or Pilgrimage
  2. Aashram - Hermitage
  3. Ban or Van - The Forest
  4. Aranya - Forest
  5. Giri - Peak of Mountain
  6. Parvat - A Mountain
  7. Sagar - The Ocean
  8. Saraswati - The Goddess of Learning
  9. Bharthi - The Goddess of Speech
  10. Puri - A Town

The names may perhaps be held to refer to the different places in which the members of each order would pursue their austerities. The different orders have their head quarters at great shrines. The Saraswati, Bharthi and puri orders are supposed to be attached to the monastery at Sringery in Mysore; the Tirtha and Ashram to that at Dwarka in Gujarat; the Ban and Aranya to the Govardhan monastery at puri; and the Giri, Parbat and Sagara to the shrine of Badrinath in the Himalayas. Dandi is sometimes shown one of the ten orders, but it seems to be the special designation of certain ascetics, who carry a staff and may belong to either the Tirtha, Ashram, Bharthi or Saraswati groups, Another name for Gosain ascetics is Abdhut or one who has separated himself from the world. The term Abdhut is sometimes specially applied to followers of the Maratha saint Dattatreya.

Dattatreya as incarnation of Shiva. The commonest orders in the Central Provinces are Giri, Puri and Bharthi and Aranya, Sagara and Parbat orders are rarely met.


A notice of the Gosains who have become an ordinary caste will be given later, formerly only Brahmans or members of the twice-born castes could become Gosain but now a man of any caste, as Kurmi, Kunbi or Mali from whom a Brahman takes water may be admitted. In some localities it is said that Gonds and Kols can now be made Gosains, however, that the Giri order is still recruit only Brahmans. At initiation the body of a neophytes is cleaned with the five products of the sacred cow, milk, curds, ghi, dung and urine. He drinks water in which the great toe of his guru has been dipped and eats the leavings of the latter’s food, thus severing himself from his own caste. His sacred thread is taken off and broken, and it is sometimes burned and he eats the ashes. All the hair of his head is shaved, including the scalp lock, which every secular Hindu wears. A mantra or text is then whispered or blown into his ear.


The novice is dressed in a cloth colored with geru or red ochre; such as the Gosains usually wear. He has a necklace or rosary of the seeds of the rudraksha tree, sacred to Shiva, consisting of 32 or 64 beads. These are like nuts with a rough indented shell. On his forehead he marks with bhabhut or ashes three horizontal lines to represent the trident of Shiva, or sometimes the eye of the God. Others make only two lines with a dot above or below, and this sign is said to represent the phallic emblem. A crescent moon or a triangle may also be made. The marks are often made in sandalwood, and the Gosains say that the original sandalwood grows on a tree in the Himalayas, which is guarded by a great snake so that nobody can approach it; but its scent is so strong that all the surrounding tress of the grove are scented with it and sandalwood is obtained from them. Those who worship Bhairon make a round mark with vermilion between eyes, taking it from beneath the god’s foot. A mendicant usually has a begging bowl and pair of tongs, which are useful for kindling afire. Those who have visited Badrinath or one of the other Himalayan shrines have a ring of iron, brass or copper on the arm often inscribed with the image of a deity. If they have been to the temple of Devi at Hinglaj in the Lasbela State of Beloochistan they have a necklace of little white stone beads called thumra; and one who has made a pilgrimage to Rameshwaram at the extreme southern point of India has ring of conch-sheelon the wrist. When he can obtain it a Gosain also carries a tiger or Panther skin, which he wears over his shoulders and uses to sit lie down on. Among the ancient Greeks it was the custom to sleep in a temple or its avenue either on the bare ground or on the skin of a sacred animal. In order to obtain visions or appearances of the god in a dream or to be cured of diseases. Formerly the Gosains were accustomed to go about naked and at the religious festivals they would go in procession naked to bathe in the river. At Amarnath in the Punjab they would throw themselves naked on the block of ice, which represented Siva. The Naga Gosains, so called because they were once accustomed to go naked into battle, were a famous fighting corpus. Though they shave the head and scalp-lock on initiation the Gosain usually let the hair grow, and either have it hanging downing matted locks over the shoulders, which gives them a wild it on the top of the head into a coil often thickened with strips of sheep’s wool. They say that they let the hair grow in imitation of the ancient forest ascetics, who could not but let it grow they had no means to shave it, and also of the matted locks of god Shiva. Sometimes they keep the hair grow during the whole period of pilgrimage and on arrival at the shrine of their destination shave it off and offer it to the god. Those who are not initiated of the banks of the Nerbudda throw the hair cut from their head into the sacred river.

Methods of begging and greetings

They have various rules about begging some will never turn back to receive alms They may also make a rule only to accept the surplus of food cooked for the family, and to refuse any of special quality cooked expressly for them One Gosain, noticed by Mr. A.K.Smith always begged hoping and only from five houses he took from them respectively two handfuls of flour, a pinch of salt and sufficient quantities of vegetables, spices and butter for his meal, and then went hopping home. Those who are performing the perikrama or circuit of the Nerbudda from its source to its mouth and back do not cut their hair or nails during the whole period of about three years. They may not enter the nerbudda above their knees nor wash their vessels in it. After crossing any tributary river or stream in their path they may not re-cross this; and if they have forgotten or left any article behind must abandon it unless they can persuade somebody to go back and fetch it for them. Some carry a gourd with a single string stretched on a stick (Ektara) on which they twang some notes; Others have a belt of sheep’s hair hung with the bells of bullocks which they tie round the waist. So that the tinkling of the bells may announce their coming. A common begging word is "Alakh" or "Alakh Niranjan"which is said to mean apart and to refer to as being separated from the world. The Gosain gives this loud sound and stands at the door of the house for a half a minute, shaking his body about all the time. If no alms are brought in this time he moves on. When an ordinary Hindu meets a Gosain he says “NamhoNarayan”Narayan is name of Vishnu and in its reply Gosains says "Naraayan"Those who have performed the circuit of the Nerbudda say “Har Nerbudda” and the person addressed answers “Nerbudda Mai ki jai” or Victory to Mother Nerbudda.

The Dandis

The Dandis are a special group of ascetics belonging to several of the ten orders. According to one account a novice who desires to become a Sannyasi must serve a period of probation for twelve years as a Dandi. Others say that only Brahman can be a Dandi while members of other castes may become Sannyasis, and Brahman can only become one if he is without father, mother, wife or child. The Dandi is so called because he has dand or bamboo staff like the ancient Vedic students. He must always carry this and never lay it down but when sleeping plant it in the ground. Some times a piece of red cloth is tied round the staff. The Dandi should live in the forest, and only come once a day to beg at Brahman’s house for part of such food as the family may have any one else, even a dog is waiting for it. He must not accept money, or touch fire or any metal. As a matter of fact their rules are disregarded, and the Dandi frequents towns and is accompanied by companions, who will accept all kinds of alms on his behalf. Dandis and Sannyasi do not worship idols, as they are themselves considered to have become part of the daily. They repeat the Phrase "So ham" which signifies I am Shiva.

The Rawanvansis

Another curious class of Gosains are the Rawanvansis who go about in the character of Rawan. The demon king of Ceylon, as he was when he carried off Sita. The legend is that in order to do this, Rawan first send his brother in the shape of golden deer before Rama’s place. Sita saw it said she must have the skin of deer and sent Rama to kill it, so Rama pursued it to the forest, and from there Rawan cried out, imitating Rama’s voice. Then Sita thought Rama was being attacked and told his brother Laxman to go to his help. But Laxman had been left in charge of her by Rama and refused to leave her, till Sita said he was hoping Rama would be killed, so that he might marry her. Then he drew a circle round her on the ground and telling her not to step outside it until his return, went off. Then Rawan took the disguise of a beggar and begged for alms from Sita she told him to come inside the magic circle and she would give him alms, but he refused. So finally Sita come outside the circle, and Rawan at once seized her and carried her off to Ceylon.The Rawanvansis Gosains wear rings of hair all up their arms and a rope of hair round the waist, and the hair of their head hanging down. It would appeal that they are intended to represent some animal. They smear vermilion on the forehead and beg only at twilight and never at any begging they will never move backwards, so that when they have passed a house they cannot take alms from it unless the house holder brings the gift to them.


Unmarried Sannyasis often reside in Math’s or monasteries. The superior is called Mahant, and he appoints his successor by will, from the members, he admits all these willing and qualified to enter the order. If the applicant is young the consent of the parents is usually obtained; and parents frequently vow to give a child to the order. Many converts have considerable areas of land attached to them and also dependent institutions. The whole property of the convent and its dependencies seems to be at the absolute disposal of the Mahant, but he is bound to give food raiment and lodging to their inmates, and he entertains all the traveler belonging to the order.

The fighting Gosains

In former times the Gosains often became soldiers and entered the service of different military chief. The most famous of these fighting priests were the Naga Gosain of the Jaipur, State of Rajputana who are said to have been under on obligation from their guru of religious chief to fight for the Raja of Jaipur whenever required. They received rent-free land and pay of two price (1/2d.) a day, which later was put into a common treasury and expended on the purchase of arms and ammunition whenever needed for war. They would also lend money, and if a debtor could not pay would make him give his son to been rolled in the force. The 7000 Naga Gosains were placed in the vanguard or the Jaipur army in battle. Their weapons were the bow, arrow, shield, spear and discus. The Gosains proprietor of the Deopur estate in Raipur formerly kept up a force of Naga Gosains with which he used to collect the tribute from the feudatory chiefs of Chattisgarh on behalf of the Raja of Nagpur. It is said that they once invaded Bastar with this object, where most of the Gosains dies of cholera. But after they had fasted for three days, the goddess Danteshwari appeared to them and promised them her protection. And they took the goddess away with them and installed her in their own village in Raipur. These Naga Gosains wore only a single white garment, like a sleeveless shirt reaching to the knees, and hence it is said that they were called naked. The Gosains and Bairagis, or adherents of Siva and Vishnu, were often engaged religious quarrels on the merits of their respective deities and sometimes came to blows. A favorite point of rivalry was the right of bathing first in the Gangas on occasion of one of the great religious fairs at Allahabad or Hardwar. The Gosains claim priority of bathing, on the ground that the Ganges flows from the matted locks of Siva; while the Bairagis assert that the source of the river is from Vishnu’s foot. In 1760 a pitched battle on this question ended in the defect of the Bairagis, of whom 1800 were slain. Again in 1796 the Gosains engaged in battle with the Sikh pilgrims and were defeated with the loss of 500 men. During the reign of Akbar a combat took place in the Emperor’s presence between the two Shivite sects of Gosains, (Sannyasi) and Jogis. This has been apparently arranged for his edification (Improve morally), & to decide which sect had the best ground for its pretensions to supernatural power. The Jogis were completely defeated.


A dead Sannyasi is always buried in the sitting attitude of religious contemplation with the legs crossed. The grave may be dug with a side receptacle for the corpse so that the earth, on being filled, in does not fall on it. The corpse is bathed and rubbed with ash and clad in a new reddish-colored shirt, with a rosary round neck. The begging wallet (Jholi) with some flour and pulse are placed in it, and also a gourd staff. Salt is put round the body to preserve it, and earthen pots put over the head. Sometimes coconuts are broken on the skull, to crack it and give exit to the soul. Perhaps the idea of burial and of preserving the corpse with salt is that the body of an ascetic does not need to be purified by fire from the appetites and passions of the flesh like that of an ordinary Hindu; it is already cleansed of all earthly frailty by his austerities, and the belief may therefore have originally been that such a man would carry his body with him to the afterworld or to absorption with the deity. The burial of a Sannyasi is often accompanies with music and signs of rejoicing; Such a funeral in which the corpse was seated in a litter (Palki, Doli), open on three sides so that it could be seen; it was tied to the back of the litter (Palki, Doli), and garlands of flowers partly covered the body. But could not conceal the hideousness of death as the unconscious head rolled helplessly from side to side with the movement of the litter (Palki, Doli). The procession was headed by a European brass band and by men carrying censers of incense.

Sexual Indulgence

Celibacy is the rule of the Gosain orders and a man’s property passes in inheritance to a selected Chela or disciple. But the practice of keeping woman is very common, even outside the large section of the community, which now recognizes marriage. Women could be admitted into the order, when they had to shave their heads, assume the ochre-colored shirt and rub their bodies with ashes. Afterwards, with the permission of the guru and on payment of fine, they could let their hair grow again, at least temporarily. Admitting woman into the order is gradually disappearing. These women were supposed to remain quite chaste and live in nunneries, but many of them live with men of the order. The sons born of such unions would be adopted as chelas or disciples by other Gosain, and made their heirs by reciprocal arrangement. Many of the wandering mendicants lead on immoral life and scandals about their enticing away with the wives of rich Hindus are not infrequent. During visits of Gosains to villages they also engage in intrigues and a ribald Gond song sung at the Holi festival describes the pleasure of the village women at the arrival of a Gossai owing to the sexual gratification, which they expected to receive from him.

Missionary Work

Nevertheless the wandering Gosain have done much to foster and maintain the Hindu religion among the people. They are the gurus or spiritual preceptors of the middle and lower castes and though their teaching may be of little advantage, it perhaps quickens and maintains the religious feeling of their clients. In former times the Gosains traveled over the wild extracts of country proselytizing the primitive non-Aryan tribes for whose conversion to Hinduism they are largely responsible, on such journeys they necessarily carried their lives to their hand, and not infrequently lost them. Hence the Gosains have done the major work for spread of Hinduism.

The Gosain, Goswami and Gosavi Caste

The majority of the Gosains are however, now married and form an ordinary caste. Buchanan states that the ten different orders became exogamous groups, the members of which married with each other. It is said that all Giri Gosains marry, whether they are mendicants or not which the Bharthi order can marry or not as they please. They prohibit any marriage between first cousins, but permit widow remarriage and divorce. They take cooked food from the higher castes, including savarna and kunbis. Hence they do not rank high socially, but their religious character gives them enormous prestige. Many Gosains have become landholders, obtaining their estate either as charitable grant from chelas or through money lending transactions. In this capacity they do not usually turn out well and are often considered harsh landlords and graphing creditors.