(Last Updated on : 12-08-2010)
Bairagi is considered as a mendicant of the Vaishnava sect. Bairagi is a generic term which is commonly applied to many sects of devotees. The Bairagi devotees of Puri are professedly followers of Ramanand, the founder of a famous Hindu sect, and his celebrated disciple Ramanuj. Bairagis are mostly taken from the Sudra castes. The name Bairagi is said to have come from Sanskrit term 'Vairagya', it signifies a person who is free from all kinds of human passions. Further, Bairaga is also the term used to denote crutched stick, which are carried by the mendicants very frequently.
There are basically four Vaishnava Sampradayas
or main sects of Bairagis. These are namely the Ramanujis, who are the followers of Vaishnavite reformer Ramanuj in southern India. Second, sect is the Nimanandi, Nimat or Nimbaditya sect, the followers of Nimanand sect. The third sect is the Vishnu-Swami or Vallabhacharya sect, the worshippers of Lord Krishna
, mythological character. The fourth sect of Bairagis is Madhavacharya sect prominent in southern India. Besides, these four main sects, Bairagis have certain minor sects too. These minor sects comprise followers of some saints and mendicants Bairagis. One sect is known as the Bendiwale, those who wear a dot. Another sect is known as the Chaturbhuji meaning four-armed. Chaturbhuj is an epithet of Lord Vishnu
Among the Bairagis, there are seven Akharas besides the four main Sampradayas. These Akharas are known as the military divisions or schools for training. These were instituted at a time when the Bairagis had to fight with the Gosains. Any member of the four main Sampradayas can belong to any one of these seven Akharas. Further, a person is also allowed to change his Akhara as when he likes. However, a person can not change his Sampradaya. These Akharas do not have any special sect mark and they are distinguished with the help of their flags or standards that are elaborately decorated with gold thread particularly embroidered on silk. Once in 12 years a meeting of these seven Akharas of Bairagi sect is held at a decided place. The seven Akharas are Digambari, Khaki, Kathia, Nirmohi, Munjia, Nirbani or Niranjani and Lasgari.
Further, the Bairagis also have 52 Dwaras or doors, and every man of the sect must be a member of a Dwara besides being a member of the Sampradaya and Akharas. These Dwaras serve as the exogamous sections of the sect and members of the same Dwara do not intermarry. Bairagis hold a respectable position in the society. The Bairagis have numerous monasteries or maths.