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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.