Back in the 8th century, Adi Shankara, a philosopher and spiritual thinker, consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. He was considered the reincarnation of Lord Shiva and a champion of Hinduism. 

He founded four highest seats of Hinduism. For the past 1200 years, each of these peeths or monasteries is headed by a religious leader called Shankaracharya, a male ascetic.

Challenging the male hegemony in religious matters, for the first time in 1200 years, a woman has staked a claim for the position of Shankaracharya in one of the highest monasteries.

From among a pool of 200 applications received for the appointment to the high religious office, only four have been shortlisted. Sadhvi Hemanand Giri, a female ascetic from Nepal is one of them.

Sadhvi Hemanand Giri is a senior ascetic in charge of several akharas and heads the Vedic Surya Shivanay Math in Gauriganj in Nepal’s Jhapa district. She is one of the strong contenders for the position.

The appointment of Shankaracharya is done by Bharat Dharma Mahamanda, an apex body of Indian sadhus, as well as Kashi Vidwatparishad. Bharat Dharma Mahamandal follows the guidelines mentioned in Mahanushasan, a book written by Adi Shankaracharya.   

Sadhvi Hemanand Giri is also the first female ascetic from outside India to claim stake to the position.

The process to appoint a Shankaracharya in the Jyotir Math began after an Allahabad high court order which asked the Bharat Dharma Mahamandal and Kashi Vidwatparishad to select a qualified saint to head the Jyotish Peeth after discussions with the remaining three Shankaracharyas. 

However, there are a few who have raised questions about the eligibility of Sadhvi Hemanand Giri. Swami Avimukteshwaranand, a disciple of Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand, told TOI.

Being a dandi swami is an important eligibility for a Shankaracharya. As a woman ascetic cannot be a dandi swami, Sadhvi Hemanand is not eligible for the post. Besides, there is neither a precedent in the matter, nor does the Mathamnaya mention that a woman seer can be appointed as shankaracharya.

If a woman is chosen to head one of the highest monasteries of Hinduism, it would indeed be a radical change in the religious history of Hinduism.