What is an Akhara (also akhada)?
An Akhara is a wrestling arena. It is an organization of the different sects of saints, Vairaghis, and yogis who have renounced the world. The history of an Akhara dates back to the circa 2500 BC when Adi Shankaracharya established seven Akharas (perhaps 10 as they are also known as Dasnaami), Mahanirvani, Niranjani, Atal, Avahan, Agni and Anand Akhara.
Akhadas came into existence during the 8th century AD when Adi Shankaracharya established seven Akhadas namely Mahanirvani, Niranjani, Juna, Atal, Avahan, Agni and Anand Akhara with an aim to strengthen the Hindu religion and unite those practicing different rituals, customs and beliefs.
At present, there are 3 major Akharas: Sanyasi, Bairagi and Nirmal and 3 minor Akharas (Atal affiliated with Mahanirvani, Anand affiliated with Niranjani and Avahan affiliated with Juna). Furthermore there is one small Brahmachari Akhara named Agni, affiliated to Juna.
Akharas are divided into different camps according to the concept of God they worship. Shaiva Akharas are for followers of Lord Shiva, Vaishnava or Vairagi Akhara are for followers of Lord Vishnu and Kalpwasis are for followers of Lord Brahma
An Akhara is further divided into 8 davas (divisions) and 52 marhis (centers). Each Marhi performs its spiritual activities under a Mahant. The central administrative body of the Akhara is Shree Panch (the body of five), representing Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva. Shaktiand and Ganesha.
The five-member body governing an Akhada is elected during every Kumbh Mela for a period of 4 years.
The biggest Akhara – computed by the number of the Saints in it – is Juna, then Niranjani and then Mahanirvani. The head of an Akhara is regarded as Acharya Mahamandaleshwar, followed by other Mahamandaleshwaras, Mandaleshwaras and Shree Mahants.
On the main bathing dates, a colorful and magnificent procession of radiant saints sitting on chariots and elephants is witnessed by thousands of Kumbh visitors. These sadhus, belonging to various camps take a dip in the holy Ganges first and only then the ordinary pilgrims are allowed to take bath in the river.
During the Kumbh Mela, the ceremonial procession of the Naga Sanyasis believed to be an auspicious sight has all the trappings of royalty. The Mahant is seated on a silver throne placed upon a caparisoned elephant. Around him are hundreds of Naga ascetics on foot, wielding lances, their naked bodies smeared with ash. Camels and Horses are also part of this procession which signifies the old Hindu organization of the Chaturanga sena, or four-limbed army, moving towards the holy waters of the Ganges.However, Mahanirvani Akhara is one of the most important of all and it is normally the first to take the ‘Shahi Snan’. Their praveshai (entry) and subsequent bath in the Holy Ganga officially marks the beginning of the Maha Kumbh.
During the ‘Shahi Snan’ thousands of devotees assemble near the road sides to get a glimpse of the procession of ascetics parading amidst tight security as they make their way to the Ghats.
List of the Main Akharas:
- Juna Akhara
- Niranjani Akhara
- Mahanirvani Akhara
Akhadas of Sanyasi:
- Shri Taponidhi Niranjani Akhada Panchayati
- Shri Panchayati Anand Akhada
- Shri Panchadashnam Juna Akhada
- Shri Panch Ahvan Akhada
- Shri Agni Akhada
- Shri Panchayat Akhada Mahanirvani
- Shri Panch Atal Akhada
Akharas of Bajrangi
- Shri Nirvani Akhada
- Shri Digambar Akhada
- Shri Nimrohi Akhada
Akharas of Nirmal
- Shri Panchayati Akhada
- Shri Udasin Panchayati Naya Akhada
- Shri Nirmal Panchayati Akhada