Sunday, 3 June 2012

Dhekiakhowa Bor Namghor

The entrance to Dhekiakhowa Bor Namghor 

A Namghor is a socio religious centre where villagers assemble to pray and to discuss religious matters. The Namghors follow the "Ek xoron hari naam dharma, founded by the great saint, scholar, social and religious reformer Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardev. This form of religion is also popularly known as "Mahapuruxism" or ''Vaishnavism'' which only worships Lord Krishna.


The other entrance to Dhekiakhowa Bor Namghor, the 'haatir turon'

Spread over 13 bighas, the Dhekiakhowa Bor Namghor is situated some four kilometers off the NH 37, in Jorhat District of  upper Assam.
Jorhat, a quiet little township surrounded by lush-green tea gardens, was home to my AjuKoka and AjuAaita (great grand parents). I have fond memories of visiting this lovely place and the Bor Namghor  as a young girl with my Koka and Aaita (grand parents). It gave me as much peace even then as it does today.

The long passageway that leads you from the 'Haatir turon' to the main door of the Namghor. The paintings on the sides depict stories from the life of Lord Krishna..

 As a child, what always fascinated me about Jorhat was the beautiful Colonial Bungalows that dotted the town making it look even more charming. Little did I know then that I would later on end up living in two of those most beautiful Colonial bungalows of Jorhat. In those bungalows, I passed one of the most beautiful stretches of my life. Those were wonderful years filled with fables. I shall write about that sometime later, but for now, let me narrate the story of the Bor Namghor.


During my stay at Jorhat, I visited Dhekiakhowa Bor Namghor often. Interacting with people associated with the Namghor, I lapped up whatever they could tell me about the origin of this Namghor. Following was what I gathered.
Mahapurush Madhavdev, a saint and a reformer was the greatest disciple of Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardev. It has been universally acknowledged that the joint effort of these two Mahapurush made this religion, the Bhagawati Vaisnav Dharma, gain popularity and flourish. However, their mission was never a smooth sailing one. Many who opposed them, approached and persuaded the Ahom King to resist the movement. King Suhungmung being convinced, ordered both of them to act as interceptors of elephants in the elephant corridor. This was nothing but punishment for the two religious heads to intercept elephants with their followers. Despite their reluctance, both had to abide by the king's order and accordingly started performing their duties.

The Bor Namghor

One day, they saw a herd approaching them, headed by a white elephant. White symbolizes truth and the mission of the two religious heads too being truth, Shankardev let the herd go. This act of the interceptors provided the opponents an opportunity to persuade the king once again to take action against them. The king immediately sent out an arrest warrant against Shankardev. On the insistence of the devotees and Madhavdev, Shankardev fled the place with some of his followers. In absence of the Guru, Madhavdev and Harijowai, another disciple, who happened to be Shankardev's son-in-law, were arrested by the king's men.


The king observed that Madhavdev had taken sanyas (asceticism), therefore, in his death none would shed tears. On the other hand, Harijowai had a complete family of wife and children, who would be living in sorrow for the rest of their lives in his death. So, the king ordered Harijowai to be beheaded. There was no escape from this death sentence. Harijowai requested Madhavdev not to leave his side while his death sentence was carried out. After much pleading, Madhavdev was allowed to be present to witness the gruesome sentence being carried out.

The age old twin Banyan trees standing confidently in the court yard of the Bor Namghor as if to tell many tales from the past. No body is sure how old these trees are.

  As he was readied for the execution, Harijowai started his prayer and Madhavdev, with a tormented heart, sang a soulful devotional song. The enchanted melody had an incredible impact on the listeners, including the king. The king was moved by the bewitchingly divine melody. In midst of the prayer and singing, the death sentence was carried out. But to their utter astonishment, even after the head was severed from the body, not a drop of blood flowed! As a rule, the blood stained sword had to be produced before the king after completion of a death sentence. Instead, the king was informed of this miracle. The king then realized that those two were no common human beings and that he committed a grave mistake by killing an innocent man. He ordered immediate release of Madhavdev and set him free with honour and plenty of wealth. Madhavdev refused to move out of captivity unless the king himself came to him to express his mistake and saw him off. The king obliged. Madhavdev left the place but did not accept a single penny the king had offered him.

The main Manikut or the Thapona (alter) of the Bor Namghor

In the mean time, Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardev started the ritual of Paal Naam for safety and well-being of his two disciples. Paal Naam is a prayer meet with devotional songs, which continues non-stop for several days. This ritual is maintained all over the state of Assam till this day with great devotion. Paal Naam is performed in Dhekiakhowa Bor Namghor every year in the holy month of Bhada (from middle of August to middle of September). Pilgrims and devotees throng the Namghor during that time.  

Dhekiakhowa village

After his release, Madhavdev wandered around for a while and finally reached this village where the Bor Namghor now stood. He arrived at the hut of a poor elderly couple in this village. On finding the Mahapurush himself in their hut, their joy knew no bounds. But was worried about entertaining their guest as they didn't have any food to offer him. The rice they collected by begging that day was hardly enough even for the two of them. God had been so kind to give them the opportunity of serving a meal to the Mahapurush which they were not capable of doing. The old couple finally decided to cook and serve the rice to the guest and stay hungry themselves.

The piece of driftwood

In the mean time, Madhavdev went to a stream that flowed by the hut to take a bath. This was actually a river, which dried up looking like a stream during the winters. Sitting on a piece of driftwood he took a bath. That piece of driftwood still lies in a corner of a room in the Bor Namghor. Devotees pay their homage by covering it with gamosa and offering prayers.

Madhavdev relished the meal of steamed rice. The poor couple somehow managed one meal for their guest and now planned for the next one. Those days, braids made of human hair were popularly used by women as wigs. Artificial hair was not available back then. This was known as 'seng sooli'. The poor old woman cut her hair off, braided them and sold them in the nearby market. She then bought some food grains, salt, oil etc with that money and asked her husband to collect some ferns which were available by the banks of the river.

This edible fern called Dhekia, has always been a favourite of the Assamese.

The old man collected some 'dhekia' (ferns). While Madhavdev cooked a meal of rice and curry of dhekia, he asked the old man to inform the villagers to assemble at the old couple's hut. Villagers  gathered around Madhavdev. He poured some oil on a peel of 'Outenga' (Elephant Apple) and lit a saki, (lamp). Preaching on Vaishnavism, he requested the villagers to tend the lamp so that it was never put out. This lamp is burning even today in the Bor Namghor. 

Akkhoy Banti

The Akkhoy Banti (the lamp/diya), that was lit by Madhavdev, is burning in the Bor Namghor till this day. For hundreds of years devotees have been pouring oil and tending this lamp to keep it from extinguishing. This lamp has come a long (484 years) way, burning non-stop from a peel of Elephant Apple to an earthen diya, a diya curved out of stone and finally the present one made of brass. Detailed reference of this lamp can be found in manuscripts, that are preserved in Kamalabari Satra of Majuli, Assam.  

Madhavdev relished the meal of rice and dhekia curry that day and since then the village came to be  known as Dhekiakhowa. As a mark of gratitude to the old woman, he named the stream by the hut as 'Buri Diha'. During summer this stream swells up turning into a big river submerging its banks.

Dhekia flower

A hundreds of years old Dhekia flower, that is being preserved in the Bor Namghor. It is believed that a Dhekia flower is not easy to find. Flowering of Dhekia itself is a rare phenomenon.

Madhavdev left this village after bringing unity to the villagers and organising them into Vaishnavism, proceeding to yet another village to bring more people under the same umbrella of Ekxaran Harinaam Dharma. He was soon united with his Guru Shankardev and together they continued their long and arduous journey.
 The old couple passed away. The villagers constructed a Namghor on the spot where the hut stood. They named it 'Burha Namghor' in memory of the old couple. In due course the name got converted to Bor Namghor. As no written history of the Namghor could be found with accurate date/year, from various other literature by both the Gurus, the year of foundation may be taken as 1528.


A part of the pond at the premises of the Bor Namghor.


Behind the scene, cleaning and cutting the fruits in progress before the Naam (prayer meet) starts.

Devotees assemble for a session of  'Naam-Praxanga'.

Over the years the Namghor has been built and renovated many times and has finally come to what it is today. It can accommodate hundreds of devotees at a time. During the month of Bhadra, thousands of devotees take part in the Naam Praxango, in three batches a day.


After Naam, the offerings (proxaad) are distributed among the devotees on banana leaves.

Xorai

Xasi Paat manuscripts at the Bor Namghor

 The museum of the Namghor is under construction. The 'Xorais' made of bell metal, the 'Xasi Paator Puthi' and many more valuables will be preserved in this museum. Assam is known for this rich tradition of manuscripts made on the inner bark of the 'Xasi' tree. The method of preparing these manuscripts were not easy. These Xasi paat manuscripts are hundreds of years old. Satras and Namghars preserve, study and carry out research work on these Xasi paat manuscripts.

The gold and silver flowers the devotees offer to the Bor Namghor.

Mainly four festivals are celebrated in Dhekiakhowa Bor Namghor.
1. Month long Paal Naam, during the month of Bhadra (from mid August to mid September).
2. Srimanta Shankardev's birth anniversary, during the month of Aahin (middle of September to middle of October).
3. Madhavdev's birth anniversary, during the month of Jeth (from 15th of May to 15th of June).
4. Bhawona Utsav, during the month of Soat or Chaitra (from 15th of March to 15th of April).

Bhawonas are dramas written by Srimanta Shankardev to convey religious messages to the masses through entertainment. The Bhawonas have characters of Gods, kings, queens, demons, soldiers etc depicting triumph of truth over evil.


Dhekiakhowa Bor Namghor has kept the tradition and uplifted the Ekxaran Bhagawati Vaishnav Dharma for hundreds of years irrespective of caste and creed, turning it into a holy place/heaven for the pilgrims. 


31 comments:

  1. Ba, Great to read " Dhekiakhowa Bor Namghor " , Thanks for the post.Nice photographs.

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    1. Thanks Rupam, for your encouragement, always .....
      So glad you like the pictures, coming from you its quite a compliment.

      Delete
  2. Fascinating culture that is strange and diverse , that is what India has in store. The picture of the Lilly pond is so exuberant . The water seems to be brimming with life!

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    1. Yes anilkurup, that's what makes our country so great.
      Thank you so much.

      Delete
  3. Ruprekha,

    Nice to see you back with such illustrative and informative post.

    Take care

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Jack.
      Love to write more posts like this one, but time doesn't seem to permit :(
      Hope you are doing well.

      Delete
  4. I love reading and hearing about different cultures, though time never permits me to visit the places I would otherwise love to. Aunty, I'm glad that through your blog posts I am able to explore and learn so much about such fascinating cultures!
    It was indeed a wonderful read! Looking forward to some more storytelling by you...

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    1. Thanks Aayushi.
      Your words do encourage me to continue my storytelling.
      You are most welcome to visit this part of the country and my home.

      Delete
  5. great post Rupreka...loved the snaps...thanks

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  6. I loved the entry the two elphants , beautiful and the lotus plants tooo
    it was amazing to read about other cultures and how other religions work

    thanks for sharing
    Bikram's

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    1. Yes indeed Bikramjit, different cultures always fascinate me too. Such a vast country with varied cultures! No wonder we call our's a country rich in culture and heritage.
      Thank you so much.

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  7. what a fascinating account of Bor Namghar.

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    1. Thank you Onkar.
      Always look forward to your encouraging words of appreciation.

      Delete
  8. such a good write up well documented with nice pics

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  9. Thank u, baideu. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. The pictures are informative and well chosen.

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    1. I am so glad you liked my effort Shiva. Although I'm neither much of a writer nor a photographer, just tried my hands on both :)
      Thanks a lot for dropping by.

      Delete
  10. dear rupa
    thats a lovely namghar you described. had no idea such a thing existed. you must explore places of interest in and around gty. many legends associated with sukleswar,nabagraha,umananda etc are not well known. if you could put up these with snaps it will be a good tourism site. you could slowly cover all the less known aspects of assam that way.
    love bajwi

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    1. Thanks a lot Bajwi.
      Good idea, will try to explore more.

      Delete
  11. Aloha, Ruprekha,

    David and I plan to visit north India Nov 1-15. It would be great if we could meet there. Kavita will be meeting us for dinner (evening meal) in Delhi. Here's the post about our itinerary:

    http://gigihawaii.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/travel-this-year/

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    Replies
    1. Aloha, gigihawaii
      That's wonderful. Will check your itinerary and reply later. Thank you so much for the invitation.

      Delete
  12. An educative post on Dhekiakhowa Bor Namghor. I love getting exposed to different cultures and the post provides a beautiful insight.

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    1. Our country is so vast with each region or community having its own different culture, there is always something new to learn/know. So glad I too could provide a little knowledge in this exposure for those who love to learn about these culture.
      Thank you so much P.N.Subramanian.

      Delete
  13. Just read your post. Very informative. Didn't realize even Sankardev faced violent persecution despite his entire teachings on Bhakti( a form of love) and his contributions in music, literature, art and culture and towards building an egalitarian society. Should have known though. Even rational scientific thought faced violent opposion. Take care.

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    1. Thank you so much.
      Yes, his contribution was so vast and major that it is not possible to learn the entire work. So glad this article has provided you with some insight into his work.

      Delete
  14. Dear Rupa,

    Happened to land on your blog. I liked it. I liked the recipe and the puja pictures.i wish you could write about the people and cultures of your people for our magazine- Samaj (Society). You have three weeks time. Will you/

    Dr. Govind Thapa from Kathmandu,Nepal
    gpthapa@gmail.com

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Dr. Govind Thapa. I would definitely love to write for Samaj. But not possible in that limited time frame right now as I am away from home on work which is taking my entire time. Will let you know when I get some quality time to devote to write about my people and culture.
      Although I would suggest, you may publish this particular article if you like.
      Regards.

      Delete
  15. Thanks Rupaji. I think this article will need some tuning in to suit as an article. See if you can manage.
    Regards.

    govind thapa

    ReplyDelete