Preparations on war footing are going on for the Simhastha Mahakumbh in Ujjain from April 22 to May 21. Bhoomipujans for creating camps are also on. In this series the Kinnar Akhada also performed bhoomipujan for their camp at the site allotted by the administration. Kick starting a new debate in the society the transgenders from all over the country formed this Akhada in October last year in Ujjain. The transgenders are generally considered to be the followers of Islamic traditions though they do have the Hindu names.
Kamla Bua, who has been the Mayor of Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, Rishi Ajay Das, who was born at Amravati but made Ujjain as his workplace, Gauri Sawant, famous dancer from Mumbai, and transgenders’ guru Laxminarain Tripathi are the brains behind the formation of the Akhada. Rishi Ajay Das is patron, while Kamla Bua has been accorded the title of Akhand Mahamandaleshwar. “We too aspire for salvation and we too subscribe to the Sanatan Dharma. Hence, we have chosen this path,” says Kamla Bua. The formation of the Akhada also received objections and it was termed against the tradition. “As per the tradition, 13 Akhadas have been given recognition. Hence, it will not be possible to accept a fourteenth one,” says Mahant Narendra Giri, president of Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad. On it Kamala Bua retorts, “We do not care for acceptance, because we are Sadhus by birth. God has bestowed on us the right to bless others.” The newly formed Akhada is in the process of appointing Peethadhishwars in all the ten directions and six of them have already been appointed.
During the Nashik Kumbh, questions were raised over the formation of the women Akhada because so far there are no restrictions on women for entry into the Akhadas. Anybody can seek entry. There are many women Sanyasins in six Shaiva Akhadas–Juna, Niranjani, Mahanirvani, Agni, Atal and Anand—who are bestowed full respect and honour. Juna Akhada has separate arrangements for the Sanyasins. Similar questions are being raised over the constitution of the transgenders’ Akhada. In the past, Akhadas were the assembly points for saints but later during the Mughal invasions the saints of the Akhadas took up weapons to protect the society. Presently the objective of the Akhadas is propagation of religious and spiritual activities. “We too wish to propagate the Dharma and steer our community on to the path of enlightenment. The significant aspect is that we want to provide our community the alternative of following the values of Sanatan Dharma,” says Kamla Bua.
Expounding further on Kamala Bua’s argument, Rishi Ajay Das says, “The fact is that when a child hailing from any religious belief approaches the transgenders’ sect, then no matter what his name or religion is, he has to obey the guru’s instructions. Since gurus of such sects are mostly the followers of Islam, every transgender has to accept Islamic teachings.” At certain places, the guru enforces conversion. “We have no objection to accepting the guru, but why should we be forced to convert from a religion in which we are born? This is the prime reason behind the formation of separate Akhada,” adds Kamla Bua.
There is no official information about the number of transgenders, though according to Lawctopus’ Law Journal, the population of hermaphrodites in Bharat is about 40 lakh. The Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism places this population at 50-60 lakh. However Rishi Ajay Das, says the number should be about 20 lakh. About 75 per cent of the transgenders subscribe to Hinduism but they are answerable to a guru who is seated on the throne of Islamic tradition. During the Mughal rule, there were two major transgender gurus – the Hindu hermaphrodites were disciples of transgender Gayaram Dada, while the Muslim transgenders were disciples of Jamal Guru. Since, Jamal Guru exercised greater authority during the Mughal period, the Hindu transgenders were forced to accept Islam and their guru, Gayaram was exterminated. This tradition continues to this day with the guru subscribing to Islamic faith.
The transgenders may even wear a sari or put a vermilion dot on their forehead, they perform daily namaz, take out tazias in procession and some even go on the Haj pilgrimage like Sanam Singh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh had done. Taking it very seriously, Rishi Ajay Das says, “Constitution of a separate Akhada is a good step to bring lakhs of Hindu tansgenders into the Hindu fold as they do not wish to be tied to the Islamic traditions. So far no forum was available to them to voice their view.”
Another reason for forming the Akhada is also to secure respect from the society. “History is witness to the fact that since the past 4,000 years, transgenders have enjoyed a respectable place in the society. The Akhada is an effort to regain that respect. Today the society may not respect them but the Supreme Court has recognised them by describing as ‘third gender’ under law,” adds Ajay Das.
Kamala Bua adds, “Dancing and singing on happy occasions and festivals is not the only alternative available to transgenders and neither are we subjects of ridicule. We too wish to follow the path of Dharma and create awareness among our community who live in perpetual fear and oppression.” “Any group can seek a place for camp at the Kumbh. It is good if they indulge in Dharma-related activities and adhere to Sanatan Dharma. We have no objections, but Peshwai and Shahi Snan would be reserved only for the 13 Akhadas that have been granted recognition,” adds Mahant Narendra Giri.
Shri Divakar Natu, chairman of the Kumbha administration says, “We are not concerned with the recognition of the Akhadas or the Peshwa rules and regulations. We have noticed that the transgenders want to work together as a team and bring their members who had gone astray on the path of Sanatan Dharma. We find that it is a good move. That is why the administration has provided them a plot to organise camp.” However, the road ahead for transgender’s Akhada is not smooth. They have to cover a long
distance proving their seriousness towards the objective.
Mahesh Sharma in Ujjain