Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajaman

There is an anomaly in treating the Nirmohi Akhara as a “Hindu” group, when in fact historically, akharas (aakhra in Bengali) were gymnasiums associated with sects that were usually opposed to organized and/or textual religions like Hinduism and Islam and claimed themselves to be non-Hindus. Susmita Dasgupta in Kafila:

Archaeologists are divided over the issue of whether a Ram Temple at all existed under the dome of the Babri Masjid and the Muslim theologicians are divided over whether the Babri is a legitimate mosque at all because in Islam if a mosque is built over a heathen’s structure of worship then it is not fit for prayers. Historians from JNU are almost universally concerned that whatever the archaeology is, the mosque should remain intact as a historical monument. The secularists are upset that the fictitious Ram Lalla be accepted as a party to a dispute and every structure of the Muslims could be pulled down on the flimsiest belief that the land archaeologically belonged to the Hindus. Such a judgment would then be a precedent in pulling down every mosque in the land and may even cast aspersions on the continued existence of the Taj Mahal and Red Fort !! I, too share similar concerns.

But historians of such caliber have failed to note the greatest anomaly of the case and which is the confounding of the Nirmohi Akhara as Hindu. The akhara is a gymnasium, a place where people are supposed to do their exercises, train in weights and various kinds of martial arts and athletics. Akharas were somewhat like the youth clubs and became as central to various mystic cults like Sufis, Bauls, Vaishnavs and Rampanthis and even certain sects of the Sikhs. The akhara was the same to these cults as the temple was to the Hindus and the mosque for the Muslims. Important saints like Ramdas, Namdeo, Eknath, Tukaram and others had veritable akharas. These sects were usually opposed to organized and/or textual religions like Hinduism and Islam and claimed themselves to be non-Hindus. They were influenced by Vaishnavism, the Bhakti and even some surviving remnants of Buddhism and Jainism. More:

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