The Vishva Hindu Parishad has joined the opposition to a demand by women ascetics for a separate time slot to take a dip in River Godavari during the shahi snan (holy dip) at the Kumbh Mela in Nashik.

The day the Kumbh Mela began on July 14, a little-known ascetic, Sadhvi Trikal Bhavanta, had alleged that she was manhandled by Mahant Gyan Das, president of the All India Akhara Parishad, when she tried to present her demand for recognition of an all-women akhara. That issue faded quickly but the sadhvi kept up her fight for the rights of women ascetics for a special time slot during the shahi snan.

Ahead of the first shahi snan on July 29, the VHP, which is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh offshoot responsible for mobilising sadhus, snubbed Sadhvi Bhavanta’s demands. It argued that the idea of an all-women akhara and a separate bathing slot for it, if accepted, would undermine Hindu traditions.

“Akharas came into existence many, many centuries ago, and they have now become part of Hindu religious traditions,” VHP vice president Jiveshwar Mishra told “If a sadhu wants to get associated with an akhara, he or she will have to choose among the existing ones and will have to take bath along with other members of the akhara. Forming a new akhara cannot be allowed. The demand for an all-women akhara would tantamount to violation of Hindu religious traditions.”

Bias against women

There are in all 13 akharas, seven Shaivite, three Vaishnavite and three Sikh. They control most of the ascetic space in Hinduism and its biggest religious gathering – the Kumbh Mela. These akharas have even formed an All India Akhara Parishad, whose primary purpose is to oversee the allotment of land in the Kumbh area and the management of shahi snans.

In this overwhelmingly male world, women ascetics have no say. Sadhvis say they get inferior treatment at the Kumbh Mela and are dependent for their stay and holy dip on various men’s camps linked to assorted akharas. Interrupting this inequality during the 2013 Kumbh Mela at Allahabad, the Juna akhara, one of the seven Shaivite akharas, created a separate enclosure for women ascetics and named it “Juna Maiwada.” But there was still no separate bathing time for the sadhvis.

It was around that period that Sadhvi Trikal Bhavanta, an Allahabad-based ascetic, first began mobilising support for a separate akhara for women. “In 2014, along with some other women sadhvis I got a new akhara registered,” the sadhvi told

This new all-women akhara – called Shri Sarveshwar Mahadeo Vaikumthdham Muktidwar Akhara Pari or simply Pari akhara – started creating waves among the Hindu ascetic orders as soon as the preparation for the Nashik Kumbh started. On July 12, two days before the Nashik Kumbh began, the All India Akhara Parishad rejected Sadhvi Bhavanta’s demand of a special time slot for her akhara during the shahi snan and instead advised that women ascetics join the “Juna Maiwada” set up again by the Juna akhara.

Fight for equality

“It was this discrimination against sadhvis and the necessity of a separate arrangement for them that I was trying to raise on July 14 when Gyan Das held my hand and tried to push me off the dais,” she alleged. “All I am trying to do is to secure some respect for women at the Kumbh Mela. No one can deny the fact that sadhvis should be allotted time and space so that participation in the Kumbh Mela becomes convenient for them. It was this fact that I wanted to tell the chief minister [Devendra Fadnavis] and other people present at the occasion.”

Though Gyan Das refuted the allegations, saying “I respect women as they are the representation of the Goddess”, the local administration acted swiftly and allotted a plot to Sadhvi Bhavanta during her stay. Nothing, however, was done to address her demand for a separate bathing slot for sadhvis.

Sadhvi Bhavanta said she is not happy with the plot allotment, but has decided to lie low for the time being.

“I was demanding 10 acres of land for the women ascetics of my akhara and a separate ghat to bathe at during the shahi snan,” she said. “But after that day’s incident, the administration has allotted a small plot for my own stay. Though it is not enough, I am satisfied that people have taken note of our demand. For the rest of the mela, I have decided not to rake up the issue any further because a quarrel of this kind will have a negative effect on common people’s faith in our spiritual traditions.”