Money Talks: Power Play at Simhastha Kumbh in the ranks of Naga Sadhus

The post of Shri Mahant is a respected and a desirable one as it is important in the functioning of the akhara.

Kumbh Mela. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Last week in Ujjain, there was a violent clash between two groups of Naga sadhus for the top post in their akhara during the ongoing Simhastha Kumbh at Ujjain. The power play has prompted doubts and questions regarding spiritualism.

Rahul Puri, one of the Naga sadhus who received bullet injury as a result of the clash in Ujjain reflects upon the complexities and dangers of power play in the monastic orders. Important positions in akharas are bought for huge amounts of money and hence hierarchical equation is of great significance to the sadhus.

Avahan akhara is one of the seven militant ascetic orders of Shaiva persuasion and Rahul belongs to this group. Together with three Vaishnav akharas and another three akharas owing allegiance partly to Sikhism and partly to Shaivism, they control most of the ascetic space of Hinduism and its largest religious gathering is the Kumbh Mela.

Related article– Kumbh Mela: One of the greatest Pilgrimages in the World

On May 12 the incident happened in the Avahan akhara that proved the complexities of power play leaving about a dozen of Nagas injured.

The post of Shri Mahant is a respected and a desirable one as it is important in the functioning of the akhara. There are four Shri Mahants in total that represents four sets of marhis (ascetic lineages), who jointly take all the decisions related to akhara like dealing with real estate holdings and other assets.

Naga Sadhus. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Naga Sadhus. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

A Shri Mahant is elected for a period of six years by a set of marhis in a democratic manner. The election is done based on a required set of skills, of which money and muscle power seems most crucial. Once the person gets elected, he influences the functioning of akhara even after he leaves his post.

In 2013, an incident took place during the Allahabad Kumbh, where the Mahanirvani and Juna akharas faced similar charges of having received huge amounts of money from Radhe Ma as well as Swami Nithyanand respectively for anointing them as Mahamandaleshwars.

These incidents clearly show that money talks and money matters to maintain the equation of power play. “Almost 90% cases in Ayodhya are of this very nature. Crimes being committed for mahantship is merely a reflection of what has been happening here for quite some time,” said Ranjit Lal Varma, an advocate in Faizabad.

In the nerve centre of Vaishnav akharas, in Ayodhya, incidents like allegations against disciples who killed their gurus to take over precious temple land and ashrams are nothing to be surprised of and one can tell that by looking at the pile of cases in the local courts.

(Inputs from