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Lakshmi Tripathi, the mahamandaleshwar, or great leader of the Kinnar Akhara. Image Source: Scroll.in[ Punit Reddy]
  • The Simhastha or Kumbh Mela at Ujjain saw a gathering of thousands of devotees lined up to seek the blessings of the transgender community, Kinnar Akhara
  • Kinnar can be understood as Kin-nar which means what-men and is the closest Sanskrit word for transgender
  • While some of the existing 13 Akharas are struggling to find devotees, the newly formed Kinnar Akhara has received an overwhelming response with thousands of people

With over 100 million participants, the Kumbh Mela festival in India is the world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims. By washing themselves in the sacred rivers, the Hindu pilgrims and sadhus believe to be cleansed of all their sin and liberated from the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The Simhastha or Kumbh Mela at Ujjain saw a gathering of thousands of devotees lined up to seek the blessings of the transgender community, Kinnar Akhara.

The Kumbh Mela is held once every three years at Haridwar, Prayag, Nashik and Ujjain. The venue is decided based on planetary movements and it is believed that the event marks the time when the river waters gain the power of amrita(the nectar of immortality) churned by devas (celestial forces) and asuras (subterranean forces) from the ocean of milk. The waters are believed to have the power to rid of all the sins acquired in one’s life so that he can start his life once again.


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The holy men, popularly known as Naga Babas are the first to bathe in these waters. The Babas or mendicants belong to one of 13 akharas, or ascetic orders. The scroll.in report says that the term naga probably originated from the word nanga, or naked, for they are digambaras – which means sky-clad, a metaphor for naked. The shahi-snan, or the royal bath of the babas, is the highlight of the Kumbh Mela. The bodies of the Naga Babas are usually smeared with ash, which is believed to contain a spiritual power born of celibacy. The ash mingles with the water, thereby lending to it this power. Only after these holy men have bathed do devotees jump into the water, cited the Scroll.in report.

A transgender from the Kinnar Akhara at Ujjain Kumbh. Image source: Punit Reddy

Kinnar can be understood as Kin-nar which means what-men and is the closest Sanskrit word for transgender. An akhara is a place of practice with facilities for boarding, lodging and training either used by Indian martial artists or a monastery for religious renunciates. The akhara members, the babas, are aligned to various schools of Hinduism such as Shaivism and Vaishnavism. There are Sikh akharas too. The akharas are either astradharis (those who bear weapons) or shastradharis (those who bear scriptures), says the Scroll.in report.

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According to the Scroll.in report, while some of the existing 13 Akharas are struggling to find devotees, the newly formed Kinnar Akhara has received an overwhelming response with thousands of people falling at the feet of the transgenders led by Lakshmi Tripathi, who was declared the mahamandaleshwar of this spiritual gymnasium. As they were seen as a subversive group, rather than a traditional one, they were denied the right to take part in shahi snan. So, they took out their own procession, the Peshwai, with horses and camels, and even took a bath on their own terms.

“We thought we won’t be accepted here because we are generally discriminated against, but people not only welcomed us, they showered money and devotion on us,” Pavitra, who belongs to the Kinnar Akhara, told The Indian Express.

The transgender community has been fighting against discrimination since ages. They seek acceptance and recognition and want to be part of the society. The public support at the Kumbh Mela has not only made them happy but has also sparked a hope of complete assimilation into the society.

-This article is compiled by a staff-writer at NewsGram.

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