Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Sri Sri Athkhelia Naamghar



Being born and grown up in Golaghat, the quiet township in the upper region of Assam, the word "Athkhelia" or "Athkhelia Naamghar" has always been very dear and close to my heart. For an Assamese this name brings the same feeling as the names of Tiraths like Ayodhya, Kashi or Brindavan.


Living away from this place now has made me feel even closer to my roots. Hence, a slightest opportunity takes me on a trip to visit this  District Head Quarter and to Athkhelia Naamghar.
The 307km drive from Guwahati on NH 37, via Dergaon is a pleasure, no matter what the season is.  With lush green tea gardens lining the road, making the journey even more enjoyable.


If you want to inhale the raw smell of tea, roll down your windows and drive at a speed not more than 60 km per hour, .... ah, sheer bliss ....


If  lucky, while crossing the Kaziranga National Park, you might have pleasure of a wonderful view of Kaziranga's pride, the one horned rhino, wild buffaloes or elephants like I had on this trip.


A 40 minutes drive from Golaghat town would bring you to the serenity of this little village where I would come every now and then as a child with my Aaita to offer our prayers in Athkhelia Naamghar. 


The pictures here are of the old auditorium where the Naamghar is temporarily shifted. Construction is going on at the spot of the hermitage where Athkhelia Naamghar was originally founded.

The Naamghar is situated in Bacha Gaon, Ghiladhari Mauza of Golaghat District, near the confluence of the three rivers- Kakodonga, Mokrong and Ghiladhari. 


The word Athkhelia is a combination of two words, 'aath' and 'khel'. In Assamese 'Aath' meaning eight and 'khel' meaning a fraternity or guild. A 'khel' is also known as a 'kuri'. The division of khel was made by the Ahom Kings who ruled Assam over 600 years from 1200 AD to 1800 AD. The word Athkhelia comes from these eight fraternities that lived in the surrounding areas. A Naamghar is the religious centre where villagers gather to pray and to discuss religious matters. Hence, the name, Aathkhelia Naamghar.


The above picture is of the auditorium of the Naamghar, where Bhaona is performed every year. Bhaonas are dramas created by the great Mahapurush Shrimanta Sankardeva, to convey religious messages to the masses through entertainment.

Although there is no written history of this Naamghar, the story we all grew up hearing goes like this :
There was a hermitage where the Naamghar is situated now. The place was full of wild animals. A few families that lived had to confront all odds, coping with the wilderness.
The Ahom prince Gadapani, the husband of Sati Jaymoti was then in hiding in the surrounding Naga Hills to escape the wrath of Lora Roja, who had unlawfully occupied the Ahom throne. Wandering in the jungles, Gadapani reached this hermitage and lived here for a long time in the hermit's love and care.


In 1681 A D, Gadapani, now known as Gadadhar Singha, ascended the throne of Ahom kingdom. He never forgot the care and love the hermit bestowed upon him during his hardship. He immediately set out in search of the hermit, but couldn't find him. The place was by then well populated. Gadadhar Singha ascribed the responsibilities of maintaining the hermitage to the eight families who lived there.  In course of time these eight families constituted eight clans. Each clan was known as a 'kuri' or 'khel'. Unitedly they were called 'aathkuria', meaning eight clans. Later the term transformed into 'Athkhelia'.

The pond in the Naamghar premises with big turtles.

The eight 'khel' or 'kuri' :
1. Bochakuri : The clan, who were selected specially by the king for various services.

2. Bairagikuri : This clan was chosen to work as messengers of the king to other kingdoms or foreign                    countries.

3. Brahmankuri : Ahom Kings had brought and settled Brahmans from other parts of the country for  religious purposes. This particular clan consisted of some of them, although non Brahmans too were included in this khel or kuri later.

4. Nangalkuri : 'Nangal' means plough in Assamese. Members of this clan were in charge of cultivating the land.


5. Solalkuri : Not certain, perhaps 'Solal', which means well versed/knowledgeable, was an intelligent person who could guide the villagers. In due course, his family or descendants formed Solalkuri.

6. Kacharikuri : Kachari was the name of a person by whose name this khel was formed.

7. Borahikuri : This khel was constituted of the Borahi tribe, who later converted to Vaishnava.

8. Kakatikuri : 'Kakati' was a title given by Ahom Kings to those who were engaged in keeping accounts of land and it's produce. This khel was formed by the Kakatis.


Placing the 'Trishul', that was found in the hermitage and a 'Thoga' (book stand) of Sandal wood, a temple was erected on the hermitage. Regular worship and visits by people from far and wide soon turned this temple into a desired destination for pilgrimage. It was then known as Sri Sri Athkhelia Hari Mandir.
Each kuri erected a thatched hut around this temple. Later the huts were renovated with posts of timber. Since then, in memory of the kuris, eight parts of offerings are made on their behalf, to Lord Vishnu, before the naam-kirtan (prayer) starts in the Naamghar everyday.


Devotees offer Gold and silver in different forms to the Naamghar, which adorn the shelves and cupboards of the office room of the Naamghar committee. 


The pair of deer, made of pure silver caught my attention and I could not resist holding them in my hands. They weighed not less than three kg each. 

Representatives of each kuri carried on their responsibilities of maintenance and the religious rituals of the Naamghar. Most of the members of these kuris now have intermingled and some of them have even migrated to different parts of the state. Borahikuri and Kakatikuri fled the place during the Burmese invasion during the years 1821 to 1825. Although few members of Nangalkuri, Salalkuri and Brahmankuri are still found in the committee or performing in the religious rituals of the Naamghar.


Gradually the need arose to construct a bigger Naamghar to accommodate more devotees as the glory of the Naamghar reached far and wide. Especially during the month of Bhada (from mid August to mid September) devotees throng Athkhelia Naamghar from all over the state and outside. Wishes are believed to be fulfilled by worshiping here.
As the Naamghar gradually grew, with various religious activities, maintenance became difficult. In the year 1956 the members of the kuris assembled to discuss the matter. In this meeting a committee was formed to manage the huge work load of the Naamghar. This committee, in due course, decided to construct a much bigger, stronger and a permanent Naamghar.

The names and amount of donations for construction are displayed on the walls of the Naamghar. 


With the contributions of devotees and well wishers, a permanent Naamghar was constructed with eight doors. An alter of five steps was built in the centre and ceremoniously 'Naam Prasanga' began as per Vaishnavism, initiated by the Bahjengani Elengi Satra.
'Satras' were established by the Vaishnava revivalist, Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev. These Satras became the centres for education and dissemination of all kinds of art and harmonious living.
The Athkhelia Naamghar continues the Vaishnava form of worship, carrying the message of the two Gurus, Sankardeva and Madhabdeva, the message of bhakti (faith) to the only Great God Shri Krishna.
From the year 1970, Sri Sri Aathkhelia Hari Mandir was known as Sri Sri Athkhelia  Naamghar. 

The Guest house

With the increase of population in the kuris, the Naamghar premises needed to be expanded further. Therefore, in the year 1974, a new structure was added to the old one. The old Naamghar still stood in its place, although the condition deteriorated. In the year 1993, construction started yet again and completed in 1996. This time the alter was raised to a higher position. 
 Today the Naamghar has a huge complex with guest house having all modern amenities, office rooms, rest homes for the visitors, residential quarters, meeting hall and auditorium. The Naamghar covers the area of 56000 square feet. 

Collection of religious books in the Naamghar


 The reconstruction and renovation of some parts of the main Naamghar is still going on, which is due to be completed by end of this year. Hope I can visit then, offer my prayers and update this post with pictures of the completed Naamghar.




Reconstruction of the  Naamghar was completed in the year 2013.



Close-up of the Guxai Gamosas adorning the Thapona in the Athkhelia Bor Naamghar 


The Naamghar now stands tall with its new look. 


27 comments:

  1. Ruprekha,

    Thanks for such indepth information. Wish I could visit that area again sometime to catch up with places told by Kavita and now you also.

    Take care

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you so much Jack.
    This place is very dear to my heart, wanted to write for quite sometime. Finally did on the eve of Bhogali Bihu, a loving festival of the Assamese.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Such lovely pictures so colorful and artistic entrances, and green tea garden, really took my breath away.
    Welcome back to blogging.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks a lot Rama :)
    Will update with more pictures once the construction of the Naamghar is complete.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks to both Kavita, and you, we are getting familiarized with so many things of Assam, Ruprekha. Everything is new to us! I love the serene surroundings where the Athkhlia is situated, esp. the clear pond!

    I like the way all of you use white clothes for wedding and for visiting temples, which resembles Kerala people too. Everything looks clean!

    Thanks for sharing, Ruprekha!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Happy Bihu to you and your family, Ruprekha!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks Sandhya. Yes it's Bihu, the Bhogali Bihu, merrymaking and eating :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. what a well-researched piece. The pictures are very expressive.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Lovely photos! Loved the greenery in the top pictures. Assam is a pretty area.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Captivating & intoxicating pics and interesting narration. Seems to be a wonderful place to get away for a few days from the hum drum city existence. A place for dhyanam,shanthi,relaxation & rejuvenation. Wonderful post Ruprekha !
    The nature shots especially Rhinos at Kaziranga are spell binding.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks gigihawaii. Yes, Assam is pretty and it's people are very simple and loving.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thank you so much R.Ramakrishnan.

    ReplyDelete
  13. @ Surinder Singh :
    Thank you so much ....

    ReplyDelete
  14. WOw beautiful pictures and as Sandhya mentioned above we are getting to see such beautiful views , thanks to you.

    Assam is beautiful reminds me when i had done my ncc trek there :) beautiful

    Bikram's

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thank you so much Bikramjit. Yes Assam is beautiful, you are most welcome again :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Wonderful post Rupa ! Loved it , specially Aaathkuria-history .The clicks are so bright and vibrant. So ,any leftovers of the celebration ?? Moy Sunga Pitha or shall I call it pressure cooker pitha khalu olop agote.Couldn't join the family to gaon because of viral-bout.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Thanks Kavita. Plenty of left over :)
    I'm sending you some broccoli from my garden.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cool blog .Keep up the good work.

      Delete
  18. I am amazed to learn about the social set up surrounding the Namghar. Interestingly the hermitage to begin with had a Trishul placed there. That is a Shaivite practice. It appears that the Athkhelia Namghar became a centre of Vaishnavite practices.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the Naamghar turned Vaishnavite only from the year 1956. Before that, it was known as the Sri Sri Hari Mandir. The trishul was placed as the foundation of the alter of the Naamghar when it was rebuilt in the year 1956.

      Delete
  19. It is very much pleasing to know the historical richness of Assamese culture and traditions.So far most of us in this country are not fortunate enough to know the richness of Assamese culture,history and heavenly natural beauty.Ruprekha, you have been doing a nice job. Please keep it up.All the best and Thanks a lot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Prataprudra. Your appreciation has really encouraged me.

      Delete
  20. Ruprekha baideu, I've no other words to say after reading Prataprudra's words above. Those words sum up my feelings too. Interestingly, my maternal grandmother is from Golaghat. Shiva.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Always look forward to your lovely words of appreciation Shiva, thank you so much.
      Nice to learn about your Golaghat connection, so far I knew only the one of Tiok.

      Delete