In a move that challenges the male domination in the world of Hindu religion, sanyasins have formed their own independent 'akhada' (a religious formation) in complete defiance of the severe opposition by the All India Akhada Parishad and prominent sant-mahants.
As if in a show of rebellion, lady 'Shankaracharya' Trikal Bhavanta led a group of about 50 women seers in a procession from her camp in the Magh Mela area on the banks of the Sangam (confluence of rivers) at Allahabad. They marched on the Mahavir Marg up to the Sangam nose where they performed 'Ganga poojan' and 'Ganga abhishek' before proclaiming the formation of the new 'akhada'.
The name of the new formation is quite a mouthful – Shri Sarveshwar Maha Baikunth Dham Mukti Dwar Akhada Parisampradaya.
"Today, it is a day of independence for women in the world of religion and spirituality," Trikal Bhavanta said after performing the rituals. She said the new 'akhada' would get women pride of place in the religious hierarchy. Bhavanta said though women did hard work in all the 'akhadas', they were not allowed to rise in the seers' hierarchy. "This subjugation of women in the 'akhada' system run by men will end now," she asserted.
The All India Akhada Parishad president Mahant Gyan Das has rejected the all-women 'akhada' saying this was against religious traditions. "In the 'akhadas' established by Adi Shankaracharya, there is no place for a separate one for women. The women seers get ample respect and honour in our 'akhadas', and have separate areas in each one of them," he said.
But, Trikal Bhavanta is defiant. She says she would go to all four Shankaracharyas for recognition. She said her 'akhada' would also participate with its own flag in the Maha Kumbh at Nasik next year.
"In the Hindu religious system, there is no mention of a 'mahila akhada'. This is against the tradition, too, so there is no question of giving it recognition," Shankaracharya Vasudevanand Saraswati has said. However, the Dwarka Shankaracharya, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati has said that he was willing to accord the women's 'akhada' due recognition if it names him as their 'guru'.
As per the system laid down by Adi Shankaracharya hundreds of years ago, there are 13 akhadas divided into four categories – sanyasi, bairagi, udaseen and nirmal. All these 'akhadas' have separate areas earmarked for the sanyasins living in them. The women seers also get 'deeksha' (anointment or initiation), and religious and spiritual education. However, they are allegedly kept involved in daily chores and not allowed to rise beyond mediocre levels.
Interestingly, some top women seers are also opposed to the women's 'akhada'. "There is no need to form a separate 'akhada' for women. Established traditions should not be defied," says Santoshi Mata, 'mahamandaleshwar', Niranjani 'akhada'. "Women are worshipped in our country, and in any case, once you are a sant, there is no difference between male and female," says Ma Gyanmayee, head of Atmashakti Peeth.