Lucknow temple gets first woman mahant

Call it the changing tides. Arunima Singh (25) took over as the first woman mahant of renowned Mankameshwar Temple in Lucknow on Tuesday. Christened as mahant Devaigya Puri, she has succeeded her guru mahant Keshav Giri, who breathed last on August 24. A native of Barabanki, she holds a diploma in pathology from Indian Institute of Paramedics Delhi. Mahant Meera Puri, a woman†mahant of Shree Guru Dattatreya Yog Ashram in Sirmour district of Himachal Pradesh, supervised her coronation as the successor of mahant Giri.

Did she face any opposition on grounds of gender? "Tough opposition was expected at the election of a woman as mahant of the Mankameshwar Temple but it turned out to be a smooth affair. I had the blessings of my guruji and support of people," said a beaming mahant Devagiya Puri, facing a rush of disciples eager to touch her feet and seek her blessings.

"A divine soul has no gender. Guru parampara is an ancient tradition and anybody can be a mahant, " said mahant Meera Puri, who represents the Shree Panch Dasnaam Junagadh Akhara. President of Dasnaami Akhara mahant Gyan Das said several women disciples have been elevated to the office of mahant in the past. "Anyone can be a mahant if she fulfills the qualifications," he said.

The chief of Ganga Sena, Anand Giri said if a woman disciple has been baptised by a guru and is unmarried, she can hold the office of mahant at any akhara. But if she does not meet any of the two criteria, her appointment as mahant is illegal, he added. †

Gender issues apart, how was mahant Devaigya Puri initiated to the spiritual world? "I was pursuing my studies at the Indian Institute of Paramedics in Delhi. In 2000, I visited the Mankameshwar Temple, stayed there for a week and took part in a yajna. Since then I am associated with the temple," said the religious leader. "My guru mahant Keshav Giriji wanted me to be his successor and become the next mahant of the temple. He baptised me on January 10, 2001. Subsequently, I renounced the worldly life, " she said, adding that she faced no resistance from her family when she opted for this path.

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