Nearly a month after the Supreme Court rejected its claim to the Ram Janmabhoomi site, the Nirmohi Akhara, located in one of the bylanes of Ayodhya, is surprisingly quiet. While it hopes to find a place in the trust to be set up by the government to build a temple on the disputed land, the six teenagers sitting next to its gate are more concerned about their future.
There are 14 teenagers currently living at the Akhara, whose activities revolve around praying to Ram. Head Mahant Dinendra Das says he accepts the Supreme Court verdict as Ram’s will. “Jo nirnaya aaya, woh uchit tha (Whatever the decision, it was right).”
For the residents of the Akhara, which is spread over two bighas and buildings that have seen better days, the day starts at 4.30 am and includes chores, prayers, cooking and lessons on Ram Katha. They hope to become Katha Vachaks (those who recite religious literature and perform prayers).
Not very interested in the nitty-gritties of the Ayodhya title suit case, 17-year-old Ram Sarvendra Nath Shukla says, “Nirmohi Akhara has everything, yet nothing.” Belonging to a poor family, Shukla came here from Siddharthnagar, about 140 km away, two years ago. His cousin is also at the Akhara.
The residents share a room, which is bare but for a few mats and cots. In a corner grains, vegetables, and rice are stored, while another corner has a gas stove for cooking.
Most of the residents have mobile phones, which was how they kept track of the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case. Asked about it, they say, “Ramji ki kripa hai, ismein Ram ki ichcha chhupi hai (It is all a blessing of Ram. His wishes are evident).”
There are a few other rooms, including the one where Dinendra Das lives. These rooms are in a new structure, built in 2017, with an LED television in the verandah that the boys sometimes watch.
Most study at a nearby Sanskrit school run by a private trust. A few also go to a priest at the neighbouring ghat for free lessons. Says Shukla, “The education is not as it should be, but we have few options. We wish we had better access to Sanskrit teaching.”
The 17-year-old studied at a private school till Class 8 before moving to the Akhara. Shukla says his father, also a Katha Vachak, got to know about the Akhara from an acquaintance. He has no regrets, Shukla adds, saying his family is happy he is studying, and are not worried as yet that he may become an ascetic, like some Akhara students.
Apart from what he studies at the Akhara, one of the residents, Arvind Tiwari, is enrolled in Class 11 at a private English-medium school nearby, in the science stream. “Since my family has been associated with the Akhara, they decided to send me here. I want to eventually join the NDA (the National Defence Academy),” says Tiwari, who came two years ago.
That makes Tiwari an object of envy for his fellow residents, who call him “English-medium wale bhaiyya”. They let him skip cooking duties because of this status. Says one of them, “Bhaiyya studies from 10 am to 4 pm, then goes for coaching.” Tiwari nods, “I have no time.”
Ayush Das, 16, also knows both worlds. While his father is an engineer, he came to the Nirmohi Akhara through his uncle, a Katha Vachak and local priest, around a year ago. Back at his village in Sultanpur, Das studied at a private school.
One of the Akhara members, Durgesh Shukla, says the Ayodhya judgment shows that the organisation needs to educate the world about its contributions, including in managing the Ram Janmabhoomi site. The Akhara claims that one of their gurus was killed by Babur’s commander Mir Baqi in order to capture the disputed area and build the Babri Masjid. “Nirmohi is one who has given up all worldly possessions. The Akhara was formed for the protection of sadhus. There are records showing it fought battles along with then naresh (king) against invaders such as Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Aurangzeb, Wajid Ali. However, today, we have lost a political battle. We failed to put forward our claim properly,” says Durgesh Shukla.
While the Allahabad High Court had given the Akhara one-third of the disputed 2.77 acres in Ayodhya, in a three-way share in 2010, the Supreme Court dismissed its suit ruling it was barred by time limitation.
The Akhara is hoping the government will now include it in the temple trust, as the court asked. At a recent meeting, it resolved to seek “important” posts in the trust’s management, and that the rights to worship Ram Lalla be given to the Ramanandi Vaishnav Sect, to which the Akhara belongs.
However, a request for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still to get a response.