The ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar brings a number of Naga Sadus and various other sages practicing certain values, performing various rituals, staying and accommodating themselves in different camps or Akhadas. Akhadas literally mean "wrestling arena.
Origin of Akhadas
Akhadas came into existence in 8th century AD when Adi Shankaracharya established seven Akhadas namely Mahanirvani, Niranjani, Juna, Atal, Avahan, Agni and Anand Akhara with an aim to strengthen the Hindu religion and unite those practicing different rituals, customs and beliefs.
At present, there are 3 major Akharas: Sanyasi, Bairagi and Nirmal and 3 minor Akharas (Atal affiliated with Mahanirvani, Anand affiliated with Niranjani, Avahan affiliated with Juna). Furthermore there is one small Brahmachari Akhara named Agni, affiliated to Juna.
Akharas are divided into different camps according to the concept of God they worship. Shaiva Akharas for followers of Lord Shiva, Vaishnava or Vairagi Akhara for followers of Lord Vishnu and Kalpwasis for followers of Lord Brahma
An Akhara is further divided in 8 davas (divisions) and 52 marhis (centers). Each Marhi performs its spiritual activities under a Mahant. The top administrative body of the Akhara is Shree Panch (the body of five), representing Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva. Shakti and Ganesha.
The five-member body governing an Akhada is elected on every Kumbh Mela for aperiod of 4 years.
The biggest Akhara - regarding the number of the Sadhus in it - is Juna, then Niranjani and then Mahanirvani. The head of an Akhara is regarded as Acharya Mahamandaleshwar, followed by other Mahamandaleshwaras, Mandaleshwaras and Shree Mahants.
On the main bathing dates, a colorful and magnificent procession of radiant saints sitting on chariots and elephants is witnessed by thousands of Kumbh visitors. These sadhus, belonging to various camps take dip at holy Ganges first and then the ordinary pilgrims are allowed to take bath in the river.
However, Mahanirvani `` is one of the most important of all and it is normally the first to take the `Shahi Snan`. Their praveshai (entry) and subsequent bath in the Holy Ganga officially marks the beginning of the Maha Kumbh.
However, the procession of Naga Sadhus (naked ascetic often seen smoking chillum or marijuana and decorated with ashes) dancing on Vedic chants is one the most important attractions of the Maha Kumbh religious fair.
The consumption of bhang, opium is also considered to be a part of the rituals performed by Naga Sadhus. It is said in the holy books (according to them) that doing so will lead them to eternity or nirvana.
The procession of Naga Sadhus attracts a large number of Kumbh visitors due to various myths associated with them. Tourists from every corner of the world flock to Haridwar during the Kumbh to watch these Naga Baba meditating in their out-of-the-world appearance and performing various rituals. This sect of sadhus can be easily identified with their naked body, long knotty hair and ashes smeared all over.
It is believed that the Naga Sadhus are able to withstand the extremities of weather. They continue to meditate even in the adverse climatic conditions. Living life in the most unconventional way, the Naga Sadhus follow their own style and enjoy it too without caring about the world at all.
Naga Sadhus perform various types of Yogic asanas, Sashtang Dandthvad being a most prominent one. The purpose of this Yogic asana is to let the whole body prostrate. These Naga Sadhus can also thrive merely on herbs.
Some of the Naga Sanyasis also wear numerous Rudraksha beads, believed to possessing positive healing powers according to the Hindu mythology. Lucky visitors can also see Naga Sadhus wearing thousands of Rudraksha beads. They believe that wearing 11,000 Rudraksha beads will help them attain the form of Lord Shankara.
List of Akhadas