Kumbh Mela Transgender Akhada

By Priti Bhengra in Editor's Pick 01/03/2019

Believed to have been instrumental in helping Lord Rama vanquish the demon God Ravana, Gods who roamed the Earth, the Kinnars or transgender’s are a community ridiculed by the society today. The legend has it that Lord Rama impressed by their dedication towards him during his war with Ravana blessed them with the power bless and curse anyone. They were also given high places in palace courts in the olden days with much prestige given to them. Even with such prestige given to them by Kings and Lord Rama himself, they are close to marginalized by the society and abandoned by their own family members.


Even though people are now opening up to the LGBTQ community, many still face discrimination in what is a very conservative country, forced into sex work or seeking alms at weddings and births, a long-held practice among them. Hate crimes against them are really common and HIV prevalence within the community is many times higher than that of the general population.


“The ritual seeking of alms is now seen as begging,” says Anindya Hajra, a transgender activist at the Pratyay Gender Trust. “It criminalizes and pushes an already vulnerable community to its very brink.”


However, the community has been making many efforts to regain that lost dignity and make a place for respect and acceptance for them. With the 2014 National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India ruling, which declared the transgenders as the third gender, the community received the recognition they long deserved. And finally encouraged by the introduction of Section 377, which decriminalized consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex, the Kinnar community is taking steps to get their long lost respect.


Kinnar Akhada, is a religious monastery for transgenders who want to lead an ascetic life as a sadhu formed in 2015 by Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, 40. It is a community which has never been fully accepted into Hindu religious life and rejected by Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, a body that claims to regulate Hindu monastic organizations in India.


Encouraged by Section 377 of Indian Penal Code, for the first time in years the Kinnar Akhada took their rightful place at the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj this year.


For the very first time, the members performed the ritual dip, known as ‘shahi snan’, a holy bath taken by saints of different Akhadas or religious groups in the holy river of Ganga before the other pilgrims on the first day of the auspicious event of Kumbh Mela. This day event of ‘shahi snan’ was traditionally reserved for Hindu priests, almost all of whom used to be men.


At the festival, there are 13 religious groups or Akhada that set up camp on the banks of the River Ganga. The umbrella body that oversees the Akhadas initially refused to recognize the Kinnar Akhada as the 14th group. But with Laxmi Tripathi’s close bonds with the largest of the other religious groups at the Kumbh Mela, the Juna Akhara they were able to get the permission to bathe at the holy Ganges together.


At the banks of the Ganges, Tripathi met with Hari Giri, the leader of Juna Akhara where he told her that her Kinnar Akhara “was there, is there, and will always be there”. This step of the community marked “an iconic moment in the history of transgenders, as they found a pathway to enter into religion with a redefined identity to herald the most awaited need of peace and humanity.”


“We are not celibate. We are demigods, not saints. We have our own rules.” – Laxmi Narayan Tripathi.


We are like books, we wait for someone to find us and open us to see what’s inside.


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