Origin Of Akharas

The origin of akharas (religious sects) dates back to the earlier Kumbh Melas organized at Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik. In Hindu religion, Akharas have their own significance and form an integral part of Sanatan Dharma.

Broadly speaking, there are around seven Dashnami Akharas of `sanyasis’ set up by Adi Shankaracharya to safeguard Hindus from forcible conversion and infuse new life into Vedic religion, as per Indian traditions.

The origin of akharas

The akharas are divided into the following categories:

Shiva Akharas: These are the followers of Lord Shiva, although some also show respect for Lord Vishnu. Some of these are also known as Nagas’. They are known for their celibacy and renunciation of material possessions and are skilled in the use of arms for the defense of religion. The Nagas’ lead a very austere life and are often naked. The Shaiva sects are divided into further groups or Akharas which are called Dashnami Akharas. These are :

  • Mahanirvani
  • Atal
  • Niranjani
  • Anand
  • Bhairav
  • Awahan
  • Agni

Vaishnava or Vairagi Akharas

These are the wandering mendicants who are followers of Lord Vishnu. They see themselves as parts of the Supreme Lord and live a life of service and dedication to Him. They are above the concept of liberation or merging with Brahma, the non-dual aspect of the Supreme. The initiator of these akharas is said to be Shree Balanand Jee. The religious preacher and the head of the akharas’ of ascetics are popularly known as Mahamandaleshwars. They are held in high esteem by the inmates of the akharas’ and are carried around in beautifully decorated palanquins during the procession of the Shahi Snan (royal bath).


Lastly, there are the Kalpwasis who perform Kalpavaas during the auspicious month of Magh. Kalpa means a day of Lord Brahma. It is believed that if one spends the whole month of Magh at the banks of the Ganga, leading an austere life in thatched huts (these days tents), sleeping on the sandy river bed, listening to discourses, giving alms, bathing thrice daily in the holy confluence, and eating once in 24 hours, they can purportedly be freed from the cycle of death and rebirth (moksha).

Juna Akhara

The Juna Akhara is one of the largest and most significant of the Dashnami Akharas. It is known for its strict discipline and rigorous spiritual practices. The followers of Juna Akhara are primarily Shaiva, dedicated to Lord Shiva, and they include many Nagas. The Juna Akhara plays a prominent role in the Kumbh Mela, where its sadhus (holy men) are known for their austerity and asceticism. The akhara has a rich tradition of spiritual and martial training, preparing its members to defend the faith and uphold the principles of Sanatan Dharma.

In essence, the akharas, including the Juna Akhara, form a vital part of the spiritual and cultural fabric of Hinduism, embodying ancient traditions and practices that continue to influence and inspire millions of followers today.

Kinnar Akhara

Kinnar Akhara, also known as the Transgender Akhara, is a unique and inclusive spiritual community that participates in the sacred gatherings and rituals of the Kumbh Mela. While traditional akharas are predominantly male, Kinnar Akhara provides a platform for transgender individuals, often marginalized in society, to express their devotion and spirituality.

Kinnar Akhara’s presence at the Kumbh Mela symbolizes a significant shift towards inclusivity within the Hindu religious landscape. Members of the Kinnar Akhara engage in various spiritual practices, including rituals, prayers, and meditation, to honor their faith and connect with the divine.

Their participation in the Kumbh Mela procession alongside other akharas underscores the acceptance and recognition of transgender individuals within the broader Hindu community. Kinnar Akhara’s presence serves as a powerful reminder of the diversity and inclusivity inherent in Hinduism, embracing individuals from all walks of life on their spiritual journey.

By January 2019, 13 akharas were officially recognized, with Juna Akhara being the largest. Adi Shankaracharya founded seven of these akharas. The akharas are categorized into three types: Nirvani Ani Akhada, Digambar Ani Akhada, and Nirmal Ani Akhada.

Nirvani Ani Akhada

Nirvani Ani Akhada comprises the highest number of akhadas for Sadhus, Sants, and Naga Sadhus. The seven Nirvani Ani Akhadas include :


  • Shri Panchdashnaam Juna Akhada (Varanasi) : This is the largest of the 13 akharas. Juna Akhada adheres to the Dashnaami Sampraday of Shaivism, established by Adi Shankaracharya, and they worship Lord Dattatreya. The Kinnar Akhara (Transgender Akhara) is also part of the Juna Akhada.

  • Shri Panchayati Niranjani Akhada (Prayagraj) : As the second largest akhada, Shri Panchayati Niranjani Akhada was established in 904 AD in Gujarat. Devotees in this akhada primarily worship Kartikeya. Notably, it is home to many highly educated members, including individuals with doctoral and post-graduate degrees, reflecting a deep commitment to both spiritual and academic pursuits.

  • Shri Panch Atal Akhada (Varanasi) : As one of the three oldest akhadas, Shri Panch Atal Akhada holds a significant place in the spiritual landscape. Devotees in this akhada worship Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, and revere the sacred symbols Bhairva Prakash Bhala and Surya Prakash Bhala, which embody divine illumination and power. The rich traditions and deep-rooted spiritual practices of this akhada make it a vital part of the broader religious community.

  • Shri Panchdashnaam Aavahan Akhada (Varanasi) : Recognized as the oldest monastic order, Shri Panchdashnaam Aavahan Akhada has a profound historical and spiritual heritage. Devotees here worship Lord Dattatreya, who is revered as the combined incarnation of the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The akhada’s ancient traditions and teachings have been preserved and passed down through generations, making it a cornerstone of monastic life and spiritual practice in Varanasi.

  • Taponidhi Shri Anand Panchayati Akhada (Nasik) : As the second oldest akhada, Taponidhi Shri Anand Panchayati Akhada holds a venerable position within the spiritual community. The primary deity worshiped here is Dev Bhuwan Bhaskar Suryanarayan, a form of the Sun God symbolizing divine light and energy. This akhada’s long-standing traditions and devout practices highlight its significant role in preserving and fostering spiritual teachings and rituals.
  • Shri Panchayati Mahanirvani Akhada (Prayagraj) : In Shri Panchayati Mahanirvani Akhada, the principal deity is Sage Kapilmuni, revered for his profound wisdom and spiritual teachings. Devotees also venerate sacred symbols such as Bhairva Prakash Bhala and Surya Prakash Bhala, which represent divine protection and enlightenment. This akhada’s rich spiritual heritage and symbolic practices contribute to its esteemed status within the religious community.

  • Shri Panchdashnaam Panchagni Akhada/Shri Shambhu Panchagni Akhara (Junagarh) : Comprising Brahmachari saints, this akhada distinguishes itself from other Shaivite counterparts by its unique practices. Unlike many Shaivite akharas, they abstain from the traditional fire sacrifice (dhuni) and refrain from consuming intoxicants. Additionally, members adhere to the sacred thread (janau) as a symbol of their spiritual commitment and purity. These distinctive customs underscore their unwavering dedication to asceticism and righteous living.


Digambar Ani Akhada 

Referred to as Bairagi Akhadas, Digambar Ani Akhada represents a sect devoted to Vaishnavism, venerating Lord Vishnu. This group comprises three distinct akhadas, each embodying a profound commitment to the worship and teachings of Lord Vishnu. Their adherence to Vaishnavite principles and rituals underscores their devotion to the divine and their place within the broader religious landscape.

Shri Nirmohi Ani Akhara (Mathura) 

Established in Vrindavan through the amalgamation of 18 Vaishnavite groups, Shri Nirmohi Ani Akhara holds a distinct place within the spiritual community. Devotees within this akhara express profound reverence for Lord Hanuman, embodying devotion and adoration towards the deity known for his unwavering loyalty and strength. This historical union and devotion underscore the akhara’s rich cultural and religious significance within Mathura and beyond.

Shri Digambar Ani Akhara (Sabarkantha) 

Located in Sabarkantha, Shri Digambar Ani Akhara represents a distinctive facet of the spiritual landscape. This akhara, deeply rooted in the Vaishnavite tradition, is dedicated to the worship and teachings of Lord Vishnu. Within its sacred precincts, devotees engage in profound rituals and practices, fostering a sense of spiritual communion and devotion. The akhara’s presence in Sabarkantha reflects its integral role in upholding and preserving the rich tapestry of Hindu spirituality and culture in the region.

Shri Nirvani Ani Akhara (Ayodhya) 

Situated in the sacred city of Ayodhya, Shri Nirvani Ani Akhara epitomizes a sanctuary of spiritual devotion and reverence. Rooted in ancient traditions, this akhara embodies a profound commitment to the path of spiritual enlightenment and self-realization. Devotees gather within its hallowed halls to engage in intricate rituals and practices, invoking divine blessings and inner transformation. The presence of Shri Nirvani Ani Akhara in Ayodhya serves as a testament to the city’s enduring spiritual legacy and its significance as a center of pilgrimage and devotion.

Nirmal Ani Akhada 

Referred to as Udasin, Nirmal Ani Akhada embodies a tradition steeped in spiritual asceticism and contemplation. This akhada comprises three distinct entities:

Shri Panchayati Bada Udasin Akhada (Prayagraj) 

Devotees within this akhada adhere closely to the teachings of Sri Chand, the esteemed elder son of Guru Nanak. Established in 1825 by Yogiraj Shree Nirvandev ji Maharaj in Haridwar, this akhada serves as a sanctuary for spiritual seekers dedicated to the path of enlightenment.

Shri Panchayti Naya Udasin Akhada (Haridwar) 

Founded in 1846 by Mahant Sudhir Das in Haridwar, this akhada emerged from a dispute within the Shri Panchayati Bada Udasin Akhada. Despite its tumultuous origins, it stands as a beacon of spiritual devotion and discipline.

Shri Nirmal Panchayati Akhada (Haridwar) 

Rooted in the Nirmal Sampraday, this akhada traces its origins back to 1856 in Punjab, founded by Durga Singh Maharaj. With close ties to Sikhism in a Sanatani manner, it embodies a harmonious blend of spiritual traditions, fostering unity and reverence among its followers.