Akhara

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For other uses, see Akhara (disambiguation).
A ceremonial procession of akhara marching over a makeshift bridge over the Ganges river, during the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad, 2001

Akhara or Akhada (अखाड़ा in Sanskrit and Hindi) or Khada (खाड़ा in Haryanvi language and Khari Boli dialects of Hindi), denotes a place of practice of Indian martial arts, with facilities for boarding, lodging and training. In the context of Dashanami Sampradaya sect of sadhus (monks), akhara denotes a "regiment".[1]

Literally, an akhara is a "wrestling ground",[1] most commonly associated with pehlwani, a style of traditional wrestling. They serve both as training schools and an arena for wrestlers to compete against each other.[2] However, akhara is not limited only to physical activities, but also involves religious practices, particularly the worship of the god Hanuman.[1] Hanuman Akhara is an example of such an akhara.

An akhara is different from Gurukula. In a Gurukula, students live and study at the home of a guru (teacher), whereas in an akhara, practitioners do not live a domestic or homely life. Some of the akharas even strictly practice Brahmacharya (celibacy). Some akharas require complete renunciation of worldly life.

Akharas of sadhus are divided into "Astradhari" (weapon-bearer) and "Shastradhari" (scripture-bearer). The Astradhari akharas practise various martial arts. These militant sadhus used to serve as mercenaries and thus were divided into akharas or regiments.[1] The Shastradhari akharas are aligned to religious sects or sampradayas, for example Vairagi are worshippers of the god Vishnu. Most of akharas are Shaiva, the sect dedicated to the god Shiva. Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad is the largest overarching union of several Akharas.

History[edit]

The historic Jarasandha's Akhara at Rajgir, mentioned in the Mahabharata epic.

There is mention of Jarasandha's Akhara at Rajgir in the Mahabharata epic. Another ancient known written evidence of the use of the word Akhara related to setting up of Akharas by Adi Shankaracharya in 8th century CE, though the practice of Akhara may have existed much earlier than that as many Indian martial arts originated much earlier than 8th century.

In its earliest usage, the term akhara referred to training halls for professional fighters. More recently Govind Sadashiv Ghurye went so far as to translate akhara to mean “military regiment”.[3]

"Akhara" can either refer to a training hall used by martial artists or a monastery for religious renunciates, in either case an Akhara is a place of practice.[4]

Types of Akhara: Astradhari (Martial Arts) and Shastradhari (Spiritual)[edit]

When the 8th-century philosopher Adi Shankaracharya founded the first religious Akhara, he divided the ascetics into two categories:

  • Astradhari (Sanskrit: अस्त्रधारी), the weapon-bearers i.e. warriors
  • Shastradhari (Sanskrit: शास्त्रधारी), the scripture-bearers i.e. intelligentsia

For example, the Astradhari warriors refers to the Naga Sadhu Akhara, a highly militant order created by Adi Shankaracharya to act as a Hindu army. Although they still carry weapons, the modern Naga sadhu rarely practice martial arts aside from wrestling.

Some of the noted Akhara organizations include, Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (All India Akhara Council), Nirmohi Akhara, Shri Dattatreya Akhara and Guru Hanuman Akhara.

Astradhari (Martial Arts) Akhara[edit]

The Astradhari (अस्त्रधारी) the weapon-bearer warriors' Akhara practice one or more Indian martial arts, some of the examples of which include the following:

They may still practice in regional versions of traditional akhara today, but these are often replaced with modern training studios, especially outside India.

The akhara used by wrestlers still have dirt floors to which water, red Ochre, buttermilk and oil are added. As with Sadhu (ascetic), the South Asian wrestlers are also expected to live a pure and simple life, observing Brahmacharya (refraining from sex) and owning only few material possessions.

Major Astradhari (Martial Arts) Akharas[edit]

The major martial akhara include:

Shastradhari (Spiritual) Akhara[edit]

The seven Shastradhari (शास्त्रधारी) scripture-bearer religious Akharas founded by the 8th-century philosopher Adi Shankaracharya were:[4]

# Major Akhara Minor Akhara Smaller Akhara
1 Juna Akhara Avahan Akhara, attached to Juna Akhara Agni Akhara, attached to Juna Akhara
2 Niranjani Akhara Ananda Akhara, attached to Niranjani Akhara -
3 Mahanirvani Akhara Atal Akhara, attached to Mahanirvani Akhara -

The akhara with the most sadhu is Juna Akhara, followed by Niranjani Akhara and Mahanirvani Akhara.

Among these, today, three are considered major akhara (Juna, Niranjani and Mahanirvani) and three minor akhara (Avahan affiliated with Juna, Ananda affiliated with Niranjani and Atal affiliated with Mahanirvani). The 7th, small Brahmachari (celibate) akhara named Agni is also affiliated with Juna Akhara.

Sects of Shastradhari Akhara[edit]

Akhara are classified into one of the four different Sampradaya (sects) based on their traditional systems:[5]

Organization of Akhara[edit]

An Akhara is governed by the sacred body of five Sri Pancha and an akhara is divided into: 8 Dava and 52 Marhi (मढ़ी). Smaller akhara, some as small as having only one Marhi, may be set up either as an affiliate to a larger group or occasionally totally independent due to disagreements over succession.

Sri Pancha[edit]

The top administrative body of each of the akhara is Sri Pancha (the sacred body of five), representing Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti and Ganesha. It is elected by consensus from among the Mahants of Marhis that make up an Akhara on every Kumbha Mela and the body holds its post for 4 years. It is a concept similar to centuries old Indian republican consensual elective system of Panchayat (at an individual village level) and Khap (grouping of the related villages within a union).

Among the five elected Sri Pancha of the Akhara, they hold the following positions in the decreasing order of seniority, all of which can be considered Guru (Divine Master) in their own right:

Dava[edit]

Davas are divisions of an Akhara. Each Akhara has 8 Davas.

Marhi[edit]

Marhis or Madhis (Hindi: मढ़ी) are centers of practice. Each Akhara has 52 Marhis (centers). Each Marhi is governed by a Mahant (Spiritual Leader).

Akharas at Kumbh Mela[edit]

Sri Panch and Akharas meet during the Kumbha Mela. At Kumbha Mela the Naga sadhu and the various akhara traditionally lead and initiate the bathing rituals before the general population steps in.[6][7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 23–4. ISBN 978-0-8239-3179-8. 
  2. ^ Chakravertty, Shreya (26 August 2008). "Life in Satpal’s akhada: Early mornings and lots of ghee". Indian Express. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Wrestler’s Body". Publishing.cdlib.org. Retrieved 2012-03-29. 
  4. ^ a b Akharas and Kumbh Mela What Is Hinduism?: Modern Adventures Into a Profound Global Faith, by Editors of Hinduism Today, Hinduism Today Magazine Editors. Published by Himalayan Academy Publications, 2007. ISBN 1-934145-00-9. 243-244.
  5. ^ "Akhada". www.firstfoundation.in. Retrieved 2013-02-28. 
  6. ^ Kumbha Mela Students' Britannica India, by Dale Hoiberg, Indu Ramchandani. Published by Popular Prakashan, 2000. ISBN 0-85229-760-2.Page 259-260.
  7. ^ Maha Kumbh Mahakumbh: The Greatest Show on Earth, by J.S. Mishra. Published by Har-Anand Publications, 2007. ISBN 81-241-0993-1. Page 21.

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