In a first, woman stakes claim to Sakaracharya seat

Lucknow: A sadhvi from Nepal has staked claim to the post of Shankaracharyaof Jyotir Math in Uttarakhand, making her the first woman to assert her right to head one of Hinduism’s highest seats.

It is also the first time that someone from outside India has expressed her desire to head one of the four holiest seats of Hinduism founded by Adi Shankara in the 8th century AD.

Sadhvi Hemanand Giri, an ascetic from the age of six and a graduate from Nepal, has submitted her application before the Akhil Bharatiya Dharm Mahamandal, the highest body of sadhus in India.

The 50-year-old, known in Nepal as Anant Vibhuti Sadhvi Hemanand Giri, was quoted as saying in her claim that there was no guideline from Adi Shankara that only men would be Shankaracharyas.

Pyare Singh, chief secretary of the Mahamandal, confirmed to reporters in Varanasi on Wednesday that Hemanand was a strong claimant for the position, now held by Swami Swaroopanand, who is also the Shankaracharya of Saradha Math, Dwarkadham, in Gujarat.

“She is a mahamandaleshwar (senior saint in charge of several akharas) and head of the Vedic Surya Shivanay Math in Gauriganj in Jhapa district of Nepal. She has done tapasyain in Himalayan caves and is a Vedic and Vedanta scholar,” Singh said. The Shivanay Math is linked to the Juna Akhara, which is headquartered in Allahabad.

Hemanand also heads an ashram in Ayodhya. Last year, she was made a mahamandaleshwar in Ujjain, one of the four centres of the Kumbh Mela.

In September this year, Allahabad High Court had asked the Akhil Bharatiya Dharm Mahamandal and the Kashi Vidwat Parishad, a body of Sanskrit scholars and sadhus, to select a qualified person to head Jyotir Math after discussions with the remaining three Shankaracharyas.

While Shankaracharyas, by tradition, appoint their successors, the order had come after a long court battle over a dispute in Jyotir Math that started in 1953. Two groups of sadhus had simultaneously declared the names of two monks – Swami Shatanand and Swami Krishna Bodhashram – as the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math.

In 1970, a civil court had declared Shatanand as the rightful Shankaracharya.

When Shatanand resigned, he appointed Vishnudevanand as his successor. In 1989, Vishnudevanand declared Vasudevanand as his successor.

But the high court said Vasudevanand didn’t deserve the position because he was neither a dandi sanyasi – those who are given a wooden holy stick by a committee of most senior sadhus – nor a scholar of the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and Vedanta.

In its order, the high court asked Swaroopanand to continue as the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math till a new head was appointed.

The Dharm Mahamandal and the Kashi Vidwat Parishad have sought applications from sadhus. Swaroopanand and Vasudevanand have also submitted their applications.


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