Woman saint Jagadguru Trikal Bhawanta has braved many odds to form the only all-women Akhara – Pari Akhara – in 2000, but even now she is facing discrimination from the 13 male-dominated Akharas recognised by Akhara Parishad. The Parishad has not given Pari Akhara the permission to take part in Shahi Snan (royal bath held during Kumbh) and also prohibited them from taking out peshwai (procession).
Trikal Bhawanta has questioned the functioning of Akhara Parishad and expressed concern over the plight of women saints. HT caught up with her at her ashram in Ujjain.
Why women are not allowed to establish their own Akharas, and why is there is gender discrimination in some of the rituals of religion?
I don’t believe in any sort of gender discrimination. It is rubbish. I have never believed, and I will never tell others to believe in it. Many times some statements have been given to the media by other Akharas that how can a woman be a Shankaracharya? …When a woman can give birth to Shankarachayra, why can’t she be a Shankaracharya? Akhara Pramukh and any Sankarcharya is born from the womb of a woman only. This reflects that they have no knowledge about Vedas, Purana and Shastras.
What kinds of restrictions are placed on women saints in other 13 Akharas?
They never say that you cannot be a woman saint but their view is that every woman saint should be under them. They never want an independent Akhara of women. The reason behind this is their male-dominated mentality…Their view towards women is parochial. They chant “Yatra Narisyasta Pujyate Ramnte Tarta Devta” but do not believe in it. They have not understood the meaning and existence of women in Indian culture and Hindu religion. Had they understood the meaning, they would have happily accepted women Akharas.
When did you form this all-women Akhara and why?
We formed the Akhara at Kumbh in 2000 and the idea to establish the all women Akhara comes from our understanding of the problem of women saints. … all the 13 Akharas are open for special women sadhvi and special saints, but for a common woman saint there is no place in all the existing male-dominated Akhara. Our Akhara is for common sadhvi.
What are the problems of women saints in other Akharas?
Women are not allowed in Yagna…The problem is grave. …In 2013, some Akharas formed “Mai-bada.” The name itself is derogatory: Bada means a cage like “Pashu-Bada” (an enclosure for animals). Their mentality reflects in the name itself. I even visited this Mai Bada and shared their experiences. The women saints said that they are with us but since they are part of the male-dominated Akhara they cannot openly come with us. The women saints of Bada are suffering now, and some of them even organized a press conference in Allahabad to air their grievances.
What is administration’s view about Pari Akhara?
The administration has said that there are only 13 Akharas and the number will remain the same. Our stand is that we have never asked the administration to recognize us. Just provide us some facilities.
Who gives recognition to Akhara?
There is no legal framework for giving recognition to Akhara. Even Akhara parishad is not a registered body. Who has given recognition to Adi Guru Shankaracharya? It is the society which gives recognition to any saint or saint body. We are just following this tradition.
What about the permission for Shahi Snan which is not allowed for your Akhara?
We are making efforts and the administration is also with us. If these Akharas says that it is the tradition that only recognized Akharas will be permitted for Shahi Snan , our stand is that this is not the matter of “parampara,” it is the issue of rights. If a man can do something, then woman can also do it. In fact, woman can do it better hence she should be respected.
Why foreign women saints are given more preference?
Unke paas dono cheezein hain, paisa bhi hai aur sundar bhi hain. What else do you need? And most importantly they are unaware about things going on here. They are “Yes Boss” type women saints.
What about Kinnar (eunuch) Akhara which is not recognised by Akhara Parishad?
Kinnars have every right to form an Akhara. No one should have problem with them. If they are inclining towards religion, this is good and beneficial for the society.