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Transgender saints of the Kinnar Akhara had their finest hour at the Prayagraj mela

It was the maiden entry of the Kinnar Akhara, a group of transgender saints, in the Prayagraj Kumbh. The group of 15 to 20 members, which attended the Ujjain Kumbh in 2016, has been taking part in the holy baths at the Kumbh Mela this year along with other akharas. The Akhara has provided a forum for transgenders to pursue a dignified life with religious rituals. It does not believe in caste.

The Akhara is led by 10 Mahamandaleshwars (leaders) in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Maharashtra and others. It is yet to be recognised by an umbrella organisation of 13 recognised monastic orders of India known as the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad. Recently, the Juna Akhara, a traditional and powerful akhara with four lakh members, most of them Naga Babas, has given recognition to the Kinnar Akhara and allowed it to be a part of the Shahi Snan in Kumbh.

Special arrangements have been made at the Kumbh Mela ground to accommodate the members of each Akhara. In total, 13 Akharas are taking part in the mela. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, chief of the the Kinnar Akhara, along with her supporters, had been preparing to participate in the Prayagraj Kumbh for two years to reclaim the lost religious identity and religious freedom of the transgender community. People from all over India and from across the world have joined the Kinnar Akhara, and it is one big family now.

Text and images by Ritu Raj Konwar

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