The Story Of Nirmohi Akhara, The ‘Other’ Hindu Side In The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Saga

The Nirmohi Akhara was awarded one-third of the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land by the Allahabad High Court in 2010, but the Supreme Court overruled the High Court judgement and dismissed its case in its 2019 judgement. 

Mahant Ramdas of Nirmohi Akhara with Jamaat Ulama-e-Hind president Molana Suhaib Qasmi

Legally speaking, the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute was essentially just a property dispute. To many Indians, however, the case was central to their religious and social identity. Skewed media and political narratives tend to depict the dispute as one between two communities - the ‘Hindu paksha’ and ‘Muslim paksha’ when referring to the dispute. But the legal battle for Ram Janmabhoomi was not a two-way fight but a three-way dispute.

Contrary to the popular perception, there were two ‘Hindu pakshas’ — Ram Lalla Virajman, the deity himself, and Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu order of warrior-saints.

The central argument of the Nirmohi Akhara was that it historically possessed, controlled, and managed the disputed site. While the Allahabad High Court in 2010 awarded the Nirmohi Akhara one-third of the disputed site as it divided the site among the three parties, the Supreme Court dismissed its case. 

Just like the Ayodhya dispute itself, the Nirmohi Akhara also has a long history and its involvement in the legal dispute is also over a century old.

The history of Nirmohi Akhara

Nirmohi Akhara is one of the ‘akharas’ of the Ramanandi order of Vaishnava sect —worshippers of Hindu God Vishnu— of Hinduism. The other two historic Ramanandi akharas are Nirvani and Digambari. The number of their akharas has expanded to seven today.

The Akhara was formed in the first half of the 18th century. Historian Meenakshi Jain puts the year of founding as 1934 by citing court filings and historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar cites a Ramanandi manuscript to put the year of founding as 1749.

“In the first quarter of the [17th] century, a conference of Ramanandis was held at Galata, near Jaipur…At this conference, the head of Ramanandis, Balananda, was entrusted the responsibility of organising military wings of various Vaishnava sects. Govindadas of the Nirmohi Akhara established the first akhara of Ramanandis in the Ayodhya,” writes Jain in her book Rama & Ayodhya.

Hindu akharas comprised armed ascetics. They have often been called ‘militant’ groups for their frequent participation in fighting with other Hindu akharas and religious conflicts. Though the formation of akharas predate the medieval religious conflicts, there is a Hindu-Muslim dimension to the expansion of akharas. During the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar, scholar JN Farquhar notes, akharas began to expand with the Mughal blessing to counter militant Muslim ascetics called faqirs.

Farquhar notes that, until the mid-1500s, the armed ascetics were mostly from the Brahman castes. This changed during Akbar's reign.

“A group of these Hindu scholars would go down to the Ganges [River Ganga] to bathe in the morning, when a company of faqirs would suddenly appear and kill them all,” writes Farquhar, Professor of Comparative Religion at University of Manchester (1924-29), and adds that such instances led sanyasi leader Madhusudana Sarasvati to approach Akbar, who in turn roped in Birbal for advice. 

“Raja Birbal then suggested that Madhusudana should initiate large numbers of men and non-Brahman caste sanyasis and arm them, so they might be ready at all times to defend Brahman sanyasis from attack. The Emperor [Akbar] agreed to the proposal and promised that fighting sanyasis should be immune from prosecution, precisely like faqirs,” writes Farquhar in his paper The Fighting Ascetics of India.

Later, Hindu ascetics under the banner of their akharas also fought Mughals in Varanasi, called Kashi by them, over destruction of temples. 

“Barely a century later [post-1650], that temple [Kashi Vishwanath] was destroyed by Aurangzeb’s troops after a pitched battle with ascetics of the Dashnami order at Gyanvapi,” writes Jain in her book Flight of the Deities and Rebirth of Temples.

Sarkar in his book A History of Dasnami Naga Sanyasis notes that ascetic traditions hold that they secured some victories against Mughals.

“At the Kashi Kshetra in Samvat 1721 (1664 AD), they own the victory in a fight with the Sultan Aurangzib and gained great glory. From sunrise to sunset the battle raged and the Dasnamis proved themselves heroes; they preserved the honour of Vishwanath’s seat,” Sarkar cites a Ramanandi manuscript as saying. 

Nirmohi Akhara in Ayodhya legal dispute

The Supreme Court in 2019 delivered its judgement in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case and awarded the disputed site to the Hindu side. The SC also ruled that an alternative plot of land be provided to the Muslim petitioner Sunni Waqf Board to build a mosque in lieu of the one demolished on December 6, 1992. 

The Supreme Court overruled the 2010 judgement of the Allahabad High Court that divided the 2.27-acre disputed plot of land among the Ram Lalla Virajman, Nirmohi Akhara, and the Sunni Waqf Board. 


While the case decided by the Allahabad High Court and later the Supreme Court date to 1950s, the legal proceedings date back to the 1850s and Nirmohi Akhara first came into the picture in 1885. 

In 1858, Sheetal Dubey, the Thanedar of Oudh, in a report referred to worship in the middle of Masjid Janam Asthan by a Nihang Sikh Farkor Khalsa of Punjab. Nihangs are a Sikh warrior sect. The Nihang, as per the report, organised a havan and puja of Guru Govind Singh and erected a symbol of Shri Bhagwan within the premises of the Masjid, notes Jain in her book Rama & Ayodhya. 


Subsequently, several complaints and court applications were filed in 1860, 1866, 1870, 1877, 1883, and 1885. The last of these applications in 1885 was filed by a Nirmohi Akhara leader, which marked the Akhara’s long association with the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. 

In 1885, Nirmohi Akhara’s Mahant Raghubar Das petitioned a Faizabad court that a temple should be allowed to be built on the disputed site. 

“Mahant Raghubar Das filed a suit, seeking permission to construct a temple over Chabutara Janmasthan, measuring 21 feet by 17 feet, which was in his possession…Raghubar Das stated that the Deputy Commissioner, Faizabad, had in 1883 prohibited the construction of the temple due to objections raised by some Muslims,” writes Jain in her book Rama & Ayodhya.


During the case, the court ordered the mapping of the disputed site and the resultant map showed that the inner courtyard and the constructed portions were under Muslim control and the outer courtyard was with the Hindus. The case was dismissed. 

The Nirmohi Akhara filed its next suit in 1959.

Why was the Nirmohi Akhada suit dismissed?

In 1949, Ram idols were found at the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site. It was claimed that a priest dreamt of the location where idols were discovered. However, the government maintained that idols were deliberately placed there before they were ‘found’. The finding of idols was portrayed as a miracle by pro-Mandir groups.


Following the incident, the Uttar Pradesh government attached the disputed site and prevented both Hindus and Muslims from accessing it. This led to Nirmohi Akhara’s case in 1959.

In 1959, the Nirmohi Akhara filed a case against the attachment of the disputed site and argued that idols were never placed there but were always there and, even if idols were placed there, the Nirmohi Akhara could do so as it was the rightful custodian of the site.

The Allahabad High Court and later the Supreme Court ruled that the case filed by the Nirmohi Akhara was barred by the limitation law. Thus the case was rejected. The ground for rejection was that the government action against which Nirmohi Akhara was arguing happened in 1950 and the case was filed in 1959. The court said the period, as per the limitation law, during which such a case can be filed is six years and therefore since Nirmohi Akhara's case was filed after nine years, the case had to be dismissed. 


Ramanandi sect in Ayodhya case

The 2019 Supreme Court verdict came in the 17 cases clubbed into one that were filed after the 1950 government attachment of the disputed site in Ayodhya. The attachment stemmed from the discovery of Ram idols in the disputed site.

Though the Nirmohi Akhara was one of the main parties of the suit, the broader Ramanandi sect to which Nirmohi Akhara belongs is also associated with the very act that led to all these legal proceedings.

Mahant Abhiram Das, who is believed to have placed the Ram idols inside the disputed site, and Vrindavan Das, who is believed to have brought those idols, both belonged to Nirvani Akhara — one of the main Ramanandi akharas along with Nirmohi and Digambari.