While a sea of devotees gathered at the World’s largest religious festival, this year’s ongoing Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj is special because it is inclusive of Transgender sadhus. For years they have not been seeking any special treatment, but acceptance and inclusion in society.

For the first time in Allahabad (now Prayagraj), members of Kinnar Akhara led by their chief Mahamandaleshwar Acharya Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, have taken the holy dip in hope that it will wash away the prejudices and discrimination thrown at them and restore their place in the society.

Kinnar in Kumbh Mela 2019

Photo by Anurag Shukla

In an exclusive conversation with Life Beyond Numbers, the head priest of Kinnar Akhara, Mahamandaleshwar Acharya Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi says, “We don’t need religion to validate our existence. All we wanted from society is to give us our due right. Kinnar Samaj has always been in Sanatan Dharma and this religion is for all.”

Mahamandaleshwar Acharya Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi

Mahamandaleshwar Acharya Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi | Photo by Anurag Shukla

In Ramcharitmanas, an epic poem composed by 16th-century Indian bhakti poet Goswami Tulsidas, he wrote- Magh Makargat Ravi Jab Hoi, Tirthpatihi Aav Sab Koi, Dev Danuj kinnar Nar Shreni, Saadar Majjahi Sakal Sriveni..(माघ मकरगत रवि जब होई, तीरथपतिहिं आव सब कोई, देव दनुज किन्नर नर श्रेनी, सादर मज्जहिं सकल त्रिवेनी..)

Ancient religious texts- be it Ramayana, Mahabharata, or Vedas, they have mentioned them as revered beings, even as Demi-Gods and this has become their shield to fight against the prejudices and reclaim their religious rights.

“We established Kinnar Akhara to reclaim our lost religious identity and religious freedom for the transgender community. Our first participation was in Simhashta Kumbh, Ujjain, in 2016. This community doesn’t believe in caste. People from all over India and from across the world have joined our Akhada and we are one big family now,” says Tripathi.

Decked up in red, yellow and saffron sarees, devotees chant religious hymns and take holy bath at the Sangam, the confluence of holy rivers Ganga and Yamuna and Saraswati. This religious gathering is completely a treat for the eyes.

Photo by Anurag Shukla

The rituals of holy bathing begin with Juna Akhada, followed by Aahwan Akhana, Agni Akhara, Dashanami Sampradaya, and ends with Kinnar Akhada going for the holy dip.

Office-bearers of the Akhada, who are over 65, have been categorized under Mandaleshwar, Peetahdishwar, and Mahants.

Currently, the Akhada is led by 10 Mahamandaleshwars (leaders) in different states- Rajasthan, UP, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Maharashtra, and others. But unfortunately, Kinnar Akhada is yet to be recognized by the umbrella organization of 13 recognized monastic orders of India known as – Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad.

Photo by Anurag Shukla

“There is no class, caste or status in our community and we treat everybody as equals. The recent ruling of the Supreme Court to scrap section 377 was a blessing for us and it gave us protection and power to live a dignified life,” she concludes.

More than 200 transgenders are expected to be inducted into the Akhada during 2019 Kumbh Mela. Recently, Kinnar Akhada has teamed up with Juna Akhada, which is the oldest Akhara in the Kumbh. Others include Niranjani Akhara and Mahanirvani Akhara.

Previously, they have been seen as either musicians or dancers and due to difficult circumstances they end up in prostitution and begging. But thankfully the scenario is changing for the better now.

Photo by Anurag Shukla

For the transgender community, their participation in this year’s Kumbh is all about mainstream society accepting them. We need to understand that culture is something that everybody lives, it has nothing to do with education.