Abdul Kalam Azad
Assam NRC Draft: How Women in Char Areas Were Left High and Dry
Quote Posted on Updated on
The news of four million people being excluded from the final draft of Assam NRC and pushing them to the verge of being stateless has caught the attention of various stakeholders across the country and beyond. The media has also brought out cases of large number of well-established individuals, including a former Chief Minister of Assam, family members of former President of India, family members of former deputy speaker of Assam Assembly, number of armed forces personnel who couldn’t make it to the final NRC draft. But the stories of fear and anxiety of the marginalised and vulnerable sections have still remained unreported.
Among Muslim dominated areas in the state, Kalgachiya in Barpeta district is one of the most affluent with a high literacy rate. According to community leaders and few government officials, only a nominal percentage of applicants have been excluded from the final draft. People who are capable of raising their voice and have access to proper documentation were able to apply and hence made it to the NRC draft.
A visibly anxious boatman said that while his name is there on the list, his wife has not been included in the draft NRC. Most passengers in the boat also described stories of how their family members, mostly women and children, are not in the list.
On the bank of the river, in a crowded small tea stall everyone was speculating about the reason of rejection. Their major apprehension is that the panchayat certificate provided by married women to prove linkage with the legacy holder has been rejected. Gani Dewani, an influential community leader, said, “Only 15-20 families have all members in the list. NRC has divided families with some members being included and others excluded.”
The NRC authority, concerned of ‘breaching of privacy’ of the excluded, hasn’t made the reason of rejection public. Those rejected will have to file another application to get to know the reason for being excluded from NRC.
The discussion in the char village centred around the panchayat certificate and delayed birth certificate. They said initially these certificates were accepted by the NRC authority but later they declined to accept birth certificates and started scrutinising panchayat certificates “strictly”.
Fifty years old Moriyam Begum lives in a tin-roofed house surrounded by the jute and paddy fields in the char. Illiterate Moriyam was trying to find a particular document with the help of her 12-year-old daughter from a pile of papers scattered on the floor. “Keeping documents in order is a challenge,” she murmured.
Almost every year char dwellers experience flood and erosion and often have to move from one place to another. In the last two decades, Moriyam has shifted her residence thrice often taking shelter in the temporary relief camp during the flood. Keeping valuable documents safely becomes a major challenge for these people who are often labelled as illegal immigrants.
Though her husband and eldest son’s name appeared in the draft, she along with two of her daughters and one son were left out from the final draft NRC. Since Moriyam doesn’t have any admissible education documents (only board certificate is accepted), she provided a panchayat certificate.
More than 4.7 million married women submitted panchayat certificate as linkage document out of which 1.7 million women were brought under “original inhabitants” status, a privileged category and were exempted from the stringent verification process. However, Muslims and Bengali Hindus, didn’t fall under the category thus despite being from one of the most marginalised social groups, Muslim women from the char areas had to go through a stringent verification process. Moriyam is one of the 2.9 million “unfortunate” women who submitted panchayat certificate.
It is speculated that most of these Muslim women are from char areas of Assam, which accommodates nearly 10 per cent of Assam’s population. There are more than 2,200 river island villages spread over 14 districts in Assam, which are geographically plagued with floods and erosion.
As per the last survey by Assam the government in 2002-03, as many as 68% of char people live under the below poverty line (BPL) and over 80 per cent of them are illiterate. Assam Human Development Report (2014) says that the Mean Year of Schooling (MYS) in char areas is 4.76 years which is the lowest among all marginalised communities in Assam. The abysmally low female literacy rate was one of the reasons of higher number of women submitting panchayat certificate from these areas.
Another reason that is equally responsible for making the char women most vulnerable in the NRC updating process is the feudal legacy and continuance of core patriarchal practices like child marriage. A study conducted by Manoj Goswami says that in char areas the mean age of marriage remains low 17.1 years.
National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 4 data reveals that in char dominated districts nearly half of the women get married before the age of 18. When women are married off before attaining the age of 18, they miss the opportunity to get enlisted in the voters list in their parental house. In absence of other documents (read educational document), it effectively delinks them from their parents and forces them to use panchayat certificate to prove linkage with parents. If they were married after getting enlisted in the voters list at parental address i.e. after attaining the legal age of marriage, they could have used the voter’s id for linkage
Today, it seems the “masculine state” is hell bent to snatch the citizenship right from women like Moriyam. She hasn’t been able have proper sleep and food ever since the final NRC draft was published. Now her only concern is ‘would they send me to ‘Kalapani’?’ She used the infamous cellular jail in Andaman and Nicobar Island to describe possible detention centres.
Originally published at https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/assam-nrc-draft-how-women-in-char-areas-were-left-high-and-dry-1835325.html
How Sword of NRC is Destroying Families in Assam
Quote Posted on Updated on
On a soaring summer morning, Ilim Uddin Dewan (50) drove his SUV to the Chenga Circle Office in Barpeta district of Western Assam. He met the circle officer, the executive magistrate of the revenue circle and the designated Circle Registrar of Citizen Registration (CRCR), for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) within the jurisdiction of revenue circle area.
Ilim Uddin, a middle age successful businessman and politician, who fought for assembly seat in 2011, alleged that his wife Mamataz Dewan was harassed in the name of being illegal immigrant from Bangladesh. A case under Foreigners Act was referred by the border police to foreigner’s tribunal in 1997 and the tribunal upheld her Indian citizenship in 2016 after a decade-long legal battle.
The NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela has said time and again through the media that once the alleged foreigner or D voter gets clearance from Foreigners Tribunal and found to be Indian citizen will be included in the NRC. The NRC website also says “D voters can apply for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC. However, a D Voter’s name will only be included in NRC only after getting clearance from the Foreigners Tribunals.”
However, the Circle Registrar of Citizen Registration (CRCR) Rajiv Kumar Das said “My hands are tied; I can’t do anything. We are doing what the state office has instructed us to do. State office has a sent list and asked us to keep those names on hold, I can’t do anything”. As per media report, the NRC authority has blocked 63,000 D voters or doubtful voters.
The officer inquired with his junior officer and confirmed that the database sent by the state office contains her name. “Even though you won the case, I can’t accept the papers,” said Rajiv Kumar and advised Ilim Uddin to contact additional deputy commissioner, who is his supervisor if a person is not satisfied with the officer’s response.
The persons, who have been declared as Indian national by foreigner’s tribunal since 2015, will have to wait till the complete draft is published. They will have to go through the claims and objection process along with those whose name do not appear in the complete draft. A window of one month will be provided for re-examination citizenship documents who wouldn’t figure in the complete draft or someone who is wrongfully included in the list.
How Significant is Doubtful Voters in NRC?
In March 2018, Assam Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary informed that state assembly that as on December 31, 2017, there were 4,85,640 D voters and suspected citizen (2,44,144 D voters and 24,14,96 reference cases), out of which 2,40,583 (1,31,034 D voter and 1,09,549 reference cases) were disposed of. The foreigners’ tribunal has declared over 92,000 persons as foreigner and remaining were able to prove their Indian citizenship.
However, out the 92,000 declared foreigners nearly 15,000 declared foreigners were found to be pre-1971 immigrants, who are treated as Indian citizen as per Assam Accord. Interestingly, over 26,000 cases out of the declared foreigner cases were declared as foreigner through expatriate decree. That means that those 26,000 declared foreigners didn’t appear before the court and court didn’t examine their citizenship credential. On other words, in many cases, those so called declared foreigners even don’t know that the foreigners’ tribunal has declared them as foreign national!
On May 2, the NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela sent memo to all district magistrates to block the name of declared foreigners and their family member’s names entering into the complete draft NRC. The NRC coordinator says that the letter has been issued based on an order given by Gauhati High Court last year. Considering the timing and far reaching and retrospective impact of the letter, the religious and linguistic minority communities perceive it as a ploy to exclude large number of genuine Indian citizen from complete draft and make them vulnerable for torturous battle in the foreigners’ tribunal and augmenting the risk of landing in the detention centre.
However, NRC coordinator has clarified that out of 92000 plus declared foreigner they could have identify only 4259 applications submitted by those declared foreigners. He speculated that the number of family members of the 4259 declared foreigners would be around 50000.
Meanwhile, the decision of excluding the family members of declared foreigners, who have documentary evidence to prove their Indian nationality and whom the NRC updating authority itself had provided the legacy document, not only created public outcry in Assam but also got attention from national and international media as well human rights bodies and human rights defenders.
Opened the Pandora’s Box?
On June 11, four Special Rapporteurs of United Nations Human Rights Council has sent a strong communication to the MEA Sushma Swaraj. The eight pages letter alleged that the order “may lead to the wrongful exclusion of close to two million names from the NRC, without a prior investigation and trial.” The letter also questions the independence and impartial functioning of foreigners’ tribunal and terms it as “so-called foreigners’ tribunal”.
It labelled serious allegation “members of Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam experience increasing pressure from State authorities to declare more persons as foreigners. On 21st June 2017, 19 members of the Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam were dismissed on ground of their under-performance over the last two years. More than 15 additional Tribunal members were issued with a strict warning to increase their efficiency. Considering that tribunal members serve on a contractual basis for two years, which may be extended on a needs and performance”
One of the terminated members of foreigners’ tribunal, on the condition of anonymity said that one of their performance indicators was – how many cased they decided in favour of the state’ or in other word how many cases they declared as foreigners!
In the wake of the controversy regarding the May 2 letter of the NRC coordinator, another important and shocking development is observed. Earlier this year, noted human rights worker and former IAS officer Harsh Mander led the National Human Rights Commission’s Mission to detention centres in Assam as Special Monitor to NHRC. His mission studied the conditions of detainees inside two detention centres in Goalpara and Kokrajhar district of Assam and studied the process of the identifying doubtful voters and functioning of border police who refers cases to foreigners’ tribunal. Harsh Mander submitted the report but NHRC didn’t take any step on his findings and suggestions. He resigned from NHRC as Special Monitor and made his report public.
The report alleges “these detention centres lie on the dark side of both legality and humanitarian principles”. There are nearly 900 hindred declared foreigners who are detained in six detention centres across the state. Some of them are detained for nearly a decade. Their families have been separated; they don’t have any right to payroll, means of communication with the family members. There is no manual or proper guideline for the administration of these detention centres. In one hand the detainees are treated as convicted criminals on the other hand they are not allowed the basic rights like payroll and wage against which are available to convicted criminals.
Harsh Mander further wrote, “Overall, I am convinced that for a process that can result in the disenfranchisement, indefinite detention or expulsion of a person, the state government needs to ensure due process and, with it, compassion and an understanding of the predicament of persons with a poor education and lack of economic resources and social or political capital.”
However, the Assam government and the NRC authority have not reacted either to UNHRC Special Rapporteurs letter or Harsh Mander’s report.
The citizenship tangle in Assam has a long history and many complexities. Apart from the administrative complexities involving multiple agencies, nearly a dozen of Acts, Rules and Accords, numerous state and non-state stakeholders; the complexities of narratives are also emerging.
The narrative of large scale, uninterrupted influx of migrants from Bangladesh causing threat to demography, language and cultural heritage of Assam has been slowly shifting towards the narrative of persecution and mistreatment of genuine Indian citizen who are religious and linguistic minorities in the state of Assam. There is little doubt that the ‘doubtful voter’ and its ecosystem has been the breeding ground for such counter narrative and the May 2 letter issued by NRC authority has given the long awaited exposure to the issue.
This will be interesting to observe how the things get unfolded once the complete draft NRC is published.
Originally published at https://www.news18.com/news/india/despite-valid-documents-my-wife-is-a-doubtful-citizen-how-sword-of-nrc-is-destroying-families-in-assam-1827111.html
United Nation’s Guiding Principles and Internally Displaced Persons of Assam
Assam Legislative Assembly witnessed an unprecedented incident last month on the issues of internally displaced persons of the state. Leader of opposition Mr. Sirajuddin Ajmal raised the issue of IDPs during question hour and asked government to give a statement. Other MLAs of AIUDF also tried to persuade the house to issue internally displaced certificate to protect the IDPs from inhuman atrocities in the name of illegal Bangladeshi immigrant. But it created chaos and speaker Pranab Gogoi cash on the situation and suspended the AIUDF MLAs from the remaining business of the house for the day.
This incident again shows the indifferent, insensitive and careless attitude of the ruling class towards the issues of internally displaced persons of the state. It’s shocking too note that India ranks 11 in the domestic refugee list globally  and Assam’s contribution is highest as a state. But till today government doesn’t have any comprehensive policy to deal with the internally displaced persons in the state as well as in the country. After the massive protest and violence in Nandhigram and Singur in West Bengal, central government came up with the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy in 2004. But the policy was formulated keeping in mind the development induced internally displaced persons only . The incident of land acquisition and displacement which smashed the thirty years left front government in West Bengal, but the victims of the displacement are still homeless. On the other hand the said policy remains silence on the issues of natural calamities like flood and erosion induced IDPs.
United Nations has well formulated guiding principles to deal with the issues of internally displaced persons. The United Nations define internally displaced persons as “Persons or group of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or place of habitual residence in particular as a result of or in order to avoid armed conflict, situation of generalized violence, violation of human rights or natural or human made disasters and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border ”. No doubt the erosion and flood induced IDPs and ethnic violence induced IDPs of Assam come under the ambit of UN’s definition.
While dealing with right to standard of living of IDPs UN’s Guiding Principle 18 outlines “At the minimum, regardless of the circumstances and without discrimination, competent authorities shall provide internally displaced persons with and ensure safe access to: a) Essential food and potable water; b) Basic shelter and housing; c) Appropriate clothing; and d) Essential medical services and sanitation . But it is observed that the internally displaced persons are most vulnerable and marginalized in the state. They are being excluded from almost all the development initiatives and pro poor programs of the government. The ethnic violence induced IDPs are facing humanitarian crisis in western Assam. Their livelihood and social setup has been destroyed due to displacement. The aged, children and disabled section of these IDPs are severely affected by the inadequate health and medical interventions. It is being regularly reported that children and elderly persons are dying due to lack of medical facilities in the camps of BTAD area of western Assam. Women are forced to compromise with the dignity and privacy due to lack of sanitary facility and shelter. The UN Guiding Principles advocate that the IDPs should not be discriminated on the ground of race, religion, ethnicity, property etc . But the situation of ethnic violence induced IDPs of western Assam does not correspond to the policy. They are being discriminated on the ground of land record during rehabilitation process!
On the other hand, the situations of natural calamities i.e. flood and erosion induced IDPs are more grieve, pathetic and having larger impact on the society as well. It is officially estimated that between 1951 to 2000 river Brahmaputra has eroded 4,29,657 hectors of agricultural land of Assam, which is almost 7 percent of total land of the state. This large scale erosion has displaced nearly three million peasants of the state . This huge displacement has resulted forced migration to other parts of the state for livelihoods and shelter. These downtrodden people are being easily targeted by the anti-social elements in the name of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Though UN Guiding Principles says that IDPs has right to liberty of movement and shall be protected from discriminatory arrest ; but sometimes they are illegally detained by police also.
The UN Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced also outlines that the IDPs should be protected from any act of violence intended to speared terror among them. But in Assam it is a frequent phenomenon to terrify the IDPs and confines their mobility. Even some portion of media also fuels such insane activity. Which not only deteriotes the conditions of IDPs, but it also affects the internal labour migration within the state. Whereas, internal labour migration is globally acknowledged as a tool to alleviate poverty through cash remittance and to meet MDG (Millennium Development Goal) .
In November 2011, IDMC (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Geneva) and NRC (Norwegian Refugee Council) published a report on the IDPs of North East India and Assam. The report provided a numbers of recommendations to government of India and state governments of Northeast. It recommended that government of India should pass legislation in accordance with UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The report also recommended to union government to provide a watch body like NHRC, NCW, NCM etc to oversee the issues IDPs. At the same time the report has particularly recommended to government of Assam to systematically assess the situation of Adivasis, Bodos, Muslims and other displaced by violence during 1990 to 2000 and determine the number of people still living in displacement and their specific needs. It asked Assam government to provide adequate support to the displaced according to their needs, which should specially include housing and livelihood assistance as well as education and skill training . But nothing has been materialized so far! Rather IDMC issued IDP alert in august 2012 saying that recent violence has induced another 400000 IDPs .
The issues of IPDs are not only confined to Assam or India; it is a global issue. And hopefully, many countries are doing commendable job to protect the right of IDPS and rehabilitating them in a systematic manner. Countries like Azarbaijan, Bonsia, Herzegovina, Colombia, Croatia, Georgia etc have enacted law in accordance with UN Guiding Principles. Question arises, why India can’t afford to adopt UN Guiding Principles to deal with the issues of IDPs? Is it out of context to demand a separate law to protect the IDPs from inhuman atrocities and to uphold their human dignity?
Photo: Sheela Sarma
Media Discrimination Against the Minority Muslims of Assam
Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Yes, my younger sister Nisha had never any problem with the minority Muslims. Now, she has become versed to write in her facebook wall “Good Morning to Assamese and Bad Morning to Bangladeshi Miya” (Miya is used as a derogatory term for the minority Muslims, though Miya means respected one) My friend Sameer does not hesitate to give a public call “Aah Oi Ulai Aah” to deport the Bangladeshi Miya. But, just before the violence in western Assam we tried to find a way out to fight the illiteracy, malnutrition, poverty of these people from a single platform. We chalked out a detail plan to make my village a self sufficient one to eradicate labor migration to urban area, install solar lamp and many other ambitious projects. As far as my memory is concerned we never felt to talk about the issue Bangladeshi Miya.
Then, why this dramatic change? Who taught them to hate the innocent minority Muslims of the state. Who amplified the fear and hatred against the these under-privileged poor people of the state. What is the ultimate motive of these hatred? If we look at the history of movement against illegal influx in the state, we found that every time it goes against the minority Muslims of the state. And significantly media played very dirty role in this aspect. Some so called intellectuals become nationalist over-night. They discover innovative ideas to harass the minority Muslims inline with the politicians. Aftermath of the violence in lower Assam one enthusiast executive editor of a so called secular Assamese daily even discovered the theory of ‘Virgin Area’ to protect his motherland! In a television show he suggested to deport the illegal Bangladeshis from the districts like Jorhat immediately. He can’t allow Jorhat to become Dhubri! Doesn’t he alternatively advocated separation of Dhubri from Assam? Every day print and electronic media publicizing the hate propaganda of the politicians, every day they are seeing lakhs of illegal Bangladeshi and trying to create atmosphere for another Assam Agitation. By any means they are trying to persuade the mainstream Assamese people that minorities are the greatest threat to their very existence.
Yes, alarm is ringing for the sleepy Assamese society to wake up and evaluate who are actually facing the threat of existence. Is it mainstream Assamese society or the corrupt politicians and their most obedient media houses? The mainstream Assamese society should not forget the black days Assam Agitation. The Nellie massacre will ashamed the Assamese forever. But what they got? Perhaps nothing more the than the secrete killing! AGP, the offspring of Assam Agitation ruled the state for ten long years, but could not see the lakhs of Bangladeshi, they couldn’t seal the Bangladesh border, they couldn’t update the NRC; for those the fought for six years, lost hundreds of their team mates and the violence killed thousands of innocent people and lakhs were displaced. And the media houses? Their expression carries some pathetic image. It seems that if they do not follow the dictation politicians their family will come to the streets! They can compromise everything to prove their existence. We may take example of G S Road molestation case or mass exodus of NE student and employees from South India. They keep spreading rumor every minutes to nurture the exodus. But they couldn’t find out who managed the special trains to NE, they couldn’t put pressure on the local government to build up confidence among the citizen of NE India, were they intentionally ignoring the dangerous conspiracy behind the exodus. Doubt coins, were they also waiting for a outburst of the anger of about fifty thousand young blood in Assam?
With due sympathy to the victims and condemning the violence by the miscreants on 28th August during Assam Bandh called by AAMSU, it is observed that the minority Muslims of the state were not taking the mainstream Assamese language media easily. The one sided decision to ban AAMSU for three months (Later it minimized to one month) by the media body fueled to maximize the trust deficit between the community and Assamese language print and electronic media. In some minority Muslim dominated areas, even people were thinking to boycott Assamese language media.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark? Why the minorities are becoming sentimental to Assamese language media? Is it justified? Unfortunately, it seems so. It is expected that media should act pro-actively to identify the social evils and put light on the dark side of the society impartially. The media body who imposed ban on AAMSU shown no outrage over the killing of journalist Raihan Nayeem of Dhubri. The media houses in Assam are totally indifferent towards the problems of minority Muslims of the state. The ethnic cleansing in BTAD area got momentum after the statement of L K Advani. Advani may not have the knowledge about Assam and Assamese; but how the media repeated his propaganda like parrot? After the ethnic violence in western Assam thousands of migrated labor from minority dominated area are being harassed by some activists of so called apolitical groups and police as well through out the state. They are forced to flee to their native villages. Shamelessly, the media starts barking that huge numbers of illegal Bangladeshi has disappeared. They publicized thousands of illegal migrants have disappeared from relief camp of Dhubri and went to Bangladesh, though they went back to their native villages. A few days back 61 minority Muslims from Margerita and 79 from Barpeta were detained by some miscreants doubting them illegal Bangladeshi, later it was found through police verification that none of them were Bangladeshi. The media never see the misery of those construction laborers, rickshaw pullers, the thela pullers or the riot victims. Their pen dried to write the story of those poor families, their camera never reaches the darkness of illiteracy, malnutrition or child labor. But they can easily calculate the population growth of this community sitting in a air conditioned room and roars like a tiger “40 LACs have more than 90% minority Muslim voters!” They never bother about the problems of illiteracy, child marriage, population explosion. Almost one third of the minorities are char dwellers and their literacy rate is less than 20%. More than 40% girls of minority Muslims get married off before attaining maturity, more 50% family’s house hold size between 6 to 11 or more. Nobody is bothered about these facts, nobody is interested to take the challenge to overcome these social obstacles. The most easy way to ignore the problems is just terming them Bangladeshi and the responsibility get over! And most significantly, their knowledge never crosses the border to see the development trajectory of Bangladesh. The development index does not carry any possibility of mass migration to Assam. Bangladeshis socio-economic conditions are far better than the minority Muslims of the state. In 1981, Bangladesh’s average child per mother was 5.10 and in 2011 the number has decreased to 2.15, in 1991 average household size was 5.5 now it is 4.4, Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has been declined from 6.3 in 1975 to 2.5 and aiming for replacement rate within 2060. Thus Bangladeshis have been able to bring down their decadal population growth at 14% in 2011 from 22% in 1981 not by pushing their people to India. On the other hand percentage of Bangladeshi Hindu is declining sharply. In 1941, Hindus were 28% of total population of Bangladesh, now the figure has been declined to mere 10%. This crucial facts never get focused in the media our state.
Nobody is against the identification and deportation of illegal foreigners staying in the state after 25th March’1971 irrespective of religion through a legal mechanism. More over minority Muslims are more concerned over the issue and importantly it can’t be resolved without cooperating minority Muslims. Hence, media should stop discrimination against minority Muslims and should refrain from fear mongering for a healthy environment to put pressure on the government to find a way out. It is the high time for the biased media personals to introspect and and retrospect the socio-cultural fabric of Assam. Their propaganda will not work in Assam otherwise the recent violence would spread whole parts of the state.
The article featured in twocircles.net
Barpeta Kirtanghar: The Centre of Neo-vaishnavite Culture of Assam
Introduction: The term culture includes each and every parts of a society during an era. E. B. Tylor explained culture in such a way “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and other habits and capabilities acquired by man as a member of a society.” The culture is also a continuous process. It has no end, it may take different shape. Edward Sapir says “culture is technically used by ethnologist and culture historian to embody any socially inherited element in the life of a man, material and spiritual. Culture, so defined, is conterminous with man for himself even the lowliest savages live in a social world characterized by a complex network of traditionally conserved habits usages and attitudes”
The Neo-Vaishnaviate cultural development in Assam was not an isolated phenomenon. It was an inevitable part of mainland Indian culture. Dr. Birendra Nath Dutta’s quotation is very much relevant in this connection “Assam is not a haphazard conglomeration of diverse racial and cultural elements but a composite whole arising out of the integration and synthesis of all of them. Indeed, Assam has been a curious melting pot to which have gone the Aryan and the non-Aryan, the tribal and the non-tribal, the indigenous and the exotic-making for a delightful fare with a wonderful mixed flavour. And this Neo-Vaishnaviate cultural movement was spreading from Barepta Kirtan Ghar to every nock and corner of the state.
The great Neo-Vaishnaviate reformer Srimanta Sankardeva spent his most valuable time in the Barepta Kirtan Ghar and cultivated the Ek-Saran-Namdharam. Once Gandhiji visited Barpeta and felt “A great vaishnava revival under Sankardeva in the 16th century has made Assamese people kindly, tolerant and humane. There is no sign anywhere of that form of untouchability which is to be found is South India. Assam is indeed, is fortune for Sankardeva, has five centuries back, given the Assamese people an ideal which is also my ideal of Ram Rajaya”
Barpeta at a Glance:
Barpeta is the head quarter of Barepta District of Assam. Barpeta is renowned in the historical map of Assam as the “Land of Satras”. These satras bear the testimony of the great Assamese reformer, saint, scholar and cultural exponent Srimanta sankardeva and his able disciple Sri Madhabdev, who propagated their new ideals and philosophy for the regeneration of the Assamese cultural life founding Barpeta as a centre of their reformatting activities.
Barpeta is located at 26° 19΄N 91° 00΄E / 26.32° 19΄N 91° 0΄E. It has an average elevation of 35 metres (144 ft.) It is 44 KM away from the Manas National Park. Two rivers Chaowlkhowa and Mora Nodi, both of which are tributaries to mighty Brahmaputra run through the town.
Education: Barpeta has a very good academic environment for students. Many great man of Assam was born in Barpeta. Ambikagiri Roychoudhury, Prasanalal Choudhury, Mahendra Mohan Choudhury, Banamali Mishra, Dambharudhar Pathak, Purushattam Das, Dr. Kishori Mohan Pathak are among them. There are a good numbers of educational institutes spreading quality education in Barpeta. The well known institutes are Madhab Choudhury College, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed Memorial Medical College, Barpeta Law College, B T College, Barpeta Girls College etc.
Barpeta can be reached by air, train and bus. It about 100 KM from Gipnath Bordoloi Internatioanl Airport, 21 Km from Barpeta Road Railway station and buses and other surface vehicles plies from Guwahati and other part of Assam to Barpeta regularly.
Barepta is connected with the service BSNL and other major private players of telecommunication. High speed internet connectivity is available.
Barpeta provides a good number of sophisticated lodges and hotels. The Assam Tourism department’s Prasanti Lodge, Forest department’s banglows, Barpeta Kirtan Ghar’s Guest House are also available. Private hotels tariffs are moderate.
Food and Beverage:
Barpeta is famous for its local cuisines. There are lots of beels (wetlands) in Barpeta, which are the major inhabitance of various species of fish. It also produces good verities of green vegetables. Chinese, Continental and South Indian dishes are also available in Barpeta. The town has a very unique beverage tradition. For the existence of the Barpeta Kirtan Ghar hot drink is strictly prohibited in the town. This prohibition exists from the time of Britsh era. There is not a single wine shop in the town. All most all kinds of soft drinks are available in the town. Though, tea is the most favorite beverage in the Barpeta town.
Brief History of Barpeta:
Barpeta has a great religious importance. It was Known by various names like Tatikuchi, Poabhita, Mathura, Vindavan, Choukhutisthan, Nabaratana-Sabha, Icchakuchi, Pushpak Vimana, Kamrup and Barpeta. The present district was an integral part of the Koch-Hajo and the Ahom kingdom till British administration took over. From the ancient period, Barpeta witnessed the role of the Barmas (380-654) the Salasthamas (655-985) the Palas (985-1260) the Kaamatas (1260-1509) and the Koches from 1509. During the Kamatas and Koch rule major historical development had taken place. During this period large number of local feudatory-chiefs, known as ‘Bhuyan’ ruled the region. The Bhuyan’s are migrated from eastern part of India like Kanuaj, Gauda, Bengal etc. Later they embraced with Assamese Nation and accepted Neo-vaishnavism under influence of Srimanta Sankardeva.
During the regime of Koch King Naranaraya, Shrimanta Sankardeva and his renowned disciple Srhee Shree Madhabdeva visited the Koch Kingdom at Barnagar (Sorbhog). Subsequently Koch King Narayana took saran (accepted) to vaishnavism. The Koch rule was ended with the annexation by the Mughals. The valiant Ahom fought a number of battles against the invading Mughls. Some well known battles were fought at Jakhlikhana, Bhabanipur, Betkuchi etc. Ahoms were deafeted and the Mughals took over the administration and systemised the entire revenue administration. Kamrupa became a sarkar, which was devided into parganas. Barepeta, Khetri, Bajali, Barnagar, Bashbari and Bijni became parganas. For administrative convenience the paraganas were devided into taluks, lats and villages. Parganas were placed under Barbaruas asnd Choudhiries. Taluk remains under Talukdar. They were assisted by Thakuria, Patwaria, Kakati etc. who kept the revenue accounts. Judges in pargans were called Sikdars, whereas Amin and Kanango were responsible for land survey, assessment and collection of revnue.
With the advent of Shrimanta Sankardeva, this region turned into a religious place dotted with numerous satras and in fact Barpeta town came to be called “Boikunthapuri Dham”. As a part of part of patronage to religious places irrespective religion the Ahom rulers had already provided a large number of land- grants to the satras. Dr. Maheswar Neog has pointed out such land-grant in his work “Prasya Sasanwali”. The grants were irrespective of religion, some Muslim Dargah at Baushi, Bhella, Khetri etc. were provided the grants. The most interesting fact is that these granted were made in copper-plate inscriptions (Tamralipi), which are invaluable sources of history.
As a result of the successive invasion of the Burmese, a wide-speared destruction took place. Later, British army entered into Barpeta to drive off the invaders and restore peace. With the advent of British rule Mouzadari system came into effect. In 1841 Barpeta became a Civil Sub Division and John Batlor became the first administrator. As a part of policy exploitation; the British rule enhanced the rate of land revenue, which also resulted a numbers of peasant unrest in between 1893-94 particularly in Bajali and Sarukhetri area. Large number of arrests was carried out to spoil the attempts of unrest. Raijor Shabha (Peoples Body) was constituted during this period to raise the revolt against the British rule.
During the period of freedom struggle, when whole India was raising its voice against colonial rule; Barpeitas were not behind the screen. Large numbers of people participated in the freedom movement and were jailed. The great Barpeita Madan Chandra Barman and Rauta Koch are the martyrs of freedom struggle, who sacrificed their life during Quit India Movement in 1942. Some of the important Congress leaders who lead the freedom struggle in Barpeta were Ambikagir Raichoudhury, Chandraprava Saikiani, kabiraj Ganshyam Das, Umesh Chandra Brahmachari, Dhaniram Talukdar, Ganesh Lal Choudhury, Golak Pathak, Sonaram Choudhury, Madhusudhan Das, and Dr. Jinaram Das etc. The father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi visited Barpeta in 1934 and so did Pandit Jawaharlal Neheru in 1937. The visit of these two national leaders had a tremendous impact on the raise of national awakening in the minds of the local people.
Srimanta Sankardeva: The Great Vaishnava Reformer:
The great vaishnava saint and reformer Srimanta Sankardeva was born in Alipukhuri of Baradowa in Nagaon in 1449. He destined to play a significant role in preaching to humanity and protecting human religion, the downtrodden, the oppressed and the untouchables.
In Gita, Lord Krishna said to Arjuna “when irreligion prevails, I manifest myself in bodily form age after age for the purpose of protecting the saints and destroying the inauspicious forces to foster religion.” Lord Krishna is the symbol of art, Srimanta Sankardeva’s incarnation is a great one, and he was also a symbol of art. There is no ‘Guru’ in the world who equally magnificent as poet, dramatist, painter and sculptor. The incarnation of Srimanta Sankardeva is a historical wonder. He contributed immensely to the integrity of the human culture.
“Ek-Saran-Namdharma” preached by Srimanta Sankardeva emphasizes on the chanting the name of Lord Krishna through devotional songs accompanied by musical instruments. The worship of Lord Krishna through “Nam Prasanga” leads to the quest for truth and balance between the soul and the body. Hardly has there been a religious ‘guru’ who effectively enjoined a pure honest work culture, social discipline, humanized love and thus cherished religious values accepted by all. The lesson of humanism can be drawn in his literature, drama, music, dance, totoy, chopoy, bhaona and art & culture.
Eminent anthropologist Rajmohan Nath described about the Neo-vaishnaviate movement as “During his (Srimanta Sankardeva’s) journey, he went among other places to Gaya, Kashi, Puri, Brindhaban, Mathura, Kurukeshtra, Upa-Badarikasram, Varakestra, Puskar, Davarka and Rameshwar. He noticed that vaishnavism was the rolling religion that had achieved with a new outlooks and movement, the unification of the people on common basis is though the medium of congregational player accompanied with music.”
In the same way well known critic Dr. Satyendra Nath Sarma interpreted the issue as “The vaishnaive in Assam was not an isolated phenomenon having no connection whatsoever with the current vaishnaive revival that swept over the rest of India during this period.”
The philosophy of his religion is enriched with the essence of vedant Baktism manuthesim, spiritualism and humanism. The main tenants of his religious faith are truthfulness, religious liberty and a benevolent attitude towards one and all. His religion wholly characterized by secularism. The doctrines of all the chief religion are assimilated into the vaishviate faith. There is no casteism in his religion. His disciples were from different ethnic tribes of Assam. The members from all castes and communities, Brahmins to Kaystas became His disciple . These names are worth-illustrating Chandasai; a Muslim, Gobinda; a Garo, Jayantahari;a Bhutia, Srirama; a Kaivarta and Madhabdeva; a potter. Women have equal access to namgharrs and can take part in nama-kirtana. They receive initiation and even hold responsible positions. It is to be noted that Kanaklata, Srimanta Sankardev’s grand daughter in law, became not only the head of a satra, she also appointed twelve satradhikars to organize more satras.
Srimanta Sankardeva was a great scholar and literary genius. His eminent literary creation is the “Kritan Ghosha”, an early Assamese poetical work. In “Gonamala” he had cryptically described manifold qualities of Lord Krishna in a day to impress Koch King Narayanan. It is almost like putting an elephant into an earthen pot, which is indeed the essence of “Bhagawat”. “Srimod Bhagawat”, the incomparable creation of Vyasdev, the great scholar of Indian classical religious literature was translated into the Assamese Language by Srimanta Sankardeva.
The Satra Institution:
Srimanta Sankardeva and his great disciple Madhabdeva explicated monotheism through simple narrative description of the scriptures. The open air theatre “Namghar” of Srimanta Sankardeva is the pilgrims of universal human religion as well as its ethos and manners. Srimanta Sankardeva’s cult based on the glorification of “Rama”, one of the greatest manifestation of “Lord Krishna”, has given the full blessings of wider Indian culture to the people of Assam. In this exaggeration to say that Srimanta Sankardeva’s Borgeets, dramas, literatures and poetic diction have created the Assamese national life. The satras setup by Srimanta Sankardeva has an important rule to play in the religious and spiritual life of the people. They have also got special functions. The “Satras and Namghars” gradually turned into religious and social institution for congregation and prayer. In connection Dr. B K Barua’s observation clear and vivid “The Namghars further serve as panchayat hall where villagers gather to discuss and solve many of their day to day problems. The community centre have been even to play political and judicial role”
The administration of a satra is run by the Satradhikar and assisted by Deka Satradhikar and other office bearers. Some of the important functionaries of a satra are:
i) Satradhikar: The head of Satra
ii) Deka Satradhikar: The deputy of the Satradhikar
iii) Bhagawati: the reciter and expounder of the Bhagawat and also known as Nam Lagowa.
iv) Deori: he is responsible for distributing the mah-prasad, he is wheealso known as Bilonia
v) Bharali: his duties and responsibility is like a store keeper.
vi) Gayan: the singer of devotional song (Borgeet)
vii) Bhayan: the bhayans are responsible to play various instruments like Dol, Khol,
The Satra Management:
The Barpeta Satra is administered in accordance with the modern democratic values. In 1935 Assam Valley Magistrate Mr. K C Shundar passed a scheme for the administration of Barepta Satra, the same was modified by Assam Valley Magistrate H C Stook in 1938. And subsequently it was again modified by Kamrup District Magistrate Mr. Safikul Islam in 1977. The Satra management committee is democratically elected by a large number of voters, which are known as Samuh. Before 1977 only male members of the Samuh were eligible for casting their votes to form the Managing Committee. On 5th of January 1977 the then District Magistrate of Kamrup Mr.Safikul Islam through an order, recognized the 18+ female voters also.
The main officials of the Satra Management Committee:
i) Bhora Satriya: The Bhora Satriya is not only the religious head but also the ex-officio president of the managing committee. In almost all the religious and other works are done only after having the consent of the Bhora Satriya.
Eligibility: To be elected a Bhora Satriya the candidate must be a resident of within the jurisdiction of Barpeta Sub-division. The candidate should have simple, discipline and self controlled life style. He must be member of Samuh.
Duty: Generally the Bhora Satriya presides over the meeting of the Satra Management Committee; he also leads the religious activities of the satra.
ii) Deka Satriya: As like as the Bhora Satriya the candidate for the portfolio of the Deka Satriya requires the same eligible criteria. He is the second highest official in the Satra institution. He is the Vice-President of the Satra Management Committee.
Tenure: The tenure of the both post is life time other the same are not expelled by the Samuh for the charge of physical and mental incompetence or bad character.
The Election of Satra Management Committee: Barepta (Satriya) town is divided into 15 assembly covering 22 hattis to elect 28 members (Excluding Bhora & Deka Satriya). The election process is almost similar with the general election prevailing in our country. According to the latest Satra scheme the female voter can also offer their candidature, but till date no female candidate had filled their nomination so far. The tenure of the Satra Management Committee is three years. The committee performs all sorts of works i.e. religious, cultural, socio-economical etc.
The satradhikar and his representatives, accompanied by some of the satra functionaries, pay periodical visits to the village where followers of the satra live. He stays either in a namghar or in a temporary camp made for the purpose, gives sarana to new entrants to the faith and bhajana to senior disciples. Sarana is a simple ceremony through which new converts are advised to follow four fundamental principles of the faith, known as CHARI-VASTU, namely:
i) Nam: Reciting the names of God
ii) Deva: Surrender to the God
iii) Guru: Acceptance of a preceptor.
iv) Bhakat: Taking delight in the company of religious brotherhood.
Over the centuries satras have been multiplied into some hundreds, the socio-political and other changed have effected this religious-cultural organization also. There have also been difference among the satras as evident from arranges of the four Samhatis or sects. But the differences are peripheral, and the hard-rock of Sankardeav’s dramatic faith of bhakti remains unshaken. No matter to what denomination a satra belongs, its ultimate allegiance is always to Sankardeva and Madhabdeva, the great cementing forces behind satriya culture, which to some extend, have homogenized Assamese society. It is the time the satras shed their differences, if there are any, and organized themselves in a proper way so that they can contribute effectively to the enrichment of Assamese cultural life.
Sankardeva created the satraiya dance to accompany the ankiya nat, which was usually performed in the satrsa. As the dance developed and grew within the satras, the dance was named by the litterateur Maheshwar Neog, who tried to promote it. Though the dance has come out of the confines of the satras to a wider audience, the satras continue to use the dance for ritualistic and other purpose for which it was originally created 500 years ago.
The Satriya Dance:
The core of satriya nritya has usually been mythological stories. This was an artistic way of presenting mythological teachings to the people in an accessible and enjoyable manner. According to tradition, satriya nritya is performed only by the bhakats (Male monks) in monasteries as a part of their daily rituals or to mark special festivals. Today, in addition to this practice satriya dance is also performed on stage by men and women who are not the members of the satras, on themes that are not mythological.
Satriya dance is divided into many genres: i) Apsra Nritya, ii) Behar Nritya, iii) Chali Nritya, iv) Dasavatara Nritya, v) Manchok Nritya, vi) Natua Nritya, vii) Rasa Nritya, viii) Rajaghariya Chali Nritya, ix) Gosai prabesh Nritya, x) Barprabesh Nritya, xi) Jhumura Nritya, xii) Nadu Bhangi Nritya and xiii) Sutradhar Nritya. Like the other seven schools of Indian dance, satriya encompasses the principles required of classical dance form: the treaties of dance and dramaturge, like Natyasastra, Abhinaya Dharpan and Sangeet Rantagar.
The satriya dance is accompanied by musical compositions called Borgeets (composed by Sankardeva and others), which are based on classical ragas. The instruments that accompanied a traditional performance are khols (Drums), taals (Cymbals), and the flute. The violin, harmonium etc have been recent additions to the satriya Nritya. The dresses are usually made of pat, a kind of silk produced in Assam, woven with local motives. The ornaments too are based on local traditional design.
On 15th Nov’2000, under the chairmanship of Dr. Bhupen Hazirika, the Sangeet Natak Academy finally gave the satriya dance its due recognition eighth classical dance forms of India. But only recognition is not sufficient. Its high time to appraise the Satriya Nritya and undertake some institutional support for the preservation and conservation of this unique performing art.
The Doul Utsav:
The Doul Jatra or Deol is a festival of purely religious origin celebrated in Barpeta Kirtan Ghar every year. It synchronizes with Holi festival. It influence over Barpetans is very deep. The Barpeta Kirtan Ghar is the main centre of this festival. The Deol festival continues for four days. All regular religious functions of the Kirtan Ghar are undergone before the Doul during this festival. All the visitors are provided with accommodation and daily quotas of ration from the Kirtan Ghar free of cost. The number of visitors normally overflows during the festival; many of them stay in the houses of individuals as guests.
Let’s have a look on day wise schedule:
The first day of the Deol festival is called Gondh. In the evening of the first day Mahaprabhu Kalia Thakur (Lord Sri Krishna) prepares to visit the place of Ghunucha. So His follower (the people of Barepta) collects a lot of reeds and makes a bonfire in front of Kirtan Ghar. After ritualistic tributes are paid to Mahaprabhu Kalia Thakur is carried with beat of drums, cymbals, mridangas and the fireworks. Thousands of Barpetan follow him. He is placed on the Khatola and taken round the fire to let him bask a little and then carried to the top of the Doul or alter.
Day II and III
On the second day, drummers and musicians perform a bhoana, the bhaona is followed by yatra at night. The visitors from different places spent their nights witnessing these performances. The third day is also observed in the same way as second day.
The fourth day is called Sueri, the last day of the festival, when Kalia Thakur is supposed to come back from the house of Ghunucha to the house of house of Lakhsmi, the followers besmear Him with colored powders and bring Him down to a Dola or Plaki (Litter vehicle). At the same time another party of devotees carrying their own Dola from Baradi, another vaishava center arrives at Barpeta Kirtan Ghar. The place virtually becomes a sea of devotees. Sounds of conch-shells, drums, cymbals, and Holi songs rend the sky. The children through the fistfuls of colored powders at one another. The God is carried in a procession by devotees to Kanariya, a place some half a mile away from the Barpeta Kirtan Ghar. The precisionists are so numerous that to cover the half mile takes them about three hours. At Kanariya, the God is stepped down of the palki and offered a kind of green pulse to eat. The satradhikar speaks a few words to gathering on the significance of the festival.
After the speech of satradhikar, Kaliya Thakur is taken back to Barpeta Kirtan Ghar. But to His mismay, He finds that the gate of Barpeta Kirtan Ghar is barred to Him with a strong bamboo. Because He was away for all these days at Ghunucha’s place, Mother Lakhsmi is angry with Him and so orders her followers to stop Him from entering her house. His followers bag her pardon on his behalf, but to no avail. Both sides enter into an argument and ultimately fall out and a kind of free-for-all ensues. This is a fought with danger, for young men out of neutral enthusiasm apply all their strength to break the bamboo bar, some get injured in the melee. By any means the bamboo is broken and Kaliya Thakur is carried inside the compound around which He goes seven times. He tires and takes rest for a while. Taking advantage of the peace, a devotee from Lakhsmi’s side reproves Him; one of the His devotee returns the reproves. An interesting verbal duel thus ensues. In the end He admits the defeat, like a peace loving husband, satisfies Her with money and other presents and earns His admittance into the Shrine. There ends the great Doul Utsav.
The Attractions inside the Satra :
Satra Complex: – There are three main gates to inter the Sarta complex, these gates are called is Batchara i.e. (i) batchara from Nahati (ii) Batchara from Uttar hati and Batchaea from dakshinhati. People are not allowed to enter beyond these Batchara with footwear and on any vehicles. It is assumed that the reason behind this rule is to culminate the accident and show honour towards the Satra complex. There are signboards written in Assamese, Hindi and saying the rule.
Kirtan Ghar:– Kirtan ghar is situated in the almost center of the Sarta complex. Main entrance in the west, Bhag ghar is in east. There are Guru Ashans, which are followed by tow big Ghacha (stand) are kept Akhay Banti. There are two Chairs for Bora Satriya in the east corner of the Guru Ashan.
There are three Guru Ashans in the Kirtan Ghar, it is believed that these Guru Ashan are associated with the name of Sri Sankar Dev, Madhab Dev and Padma Ata. According to the general faith these three Guru Ashan are dedicated towards lord Krishna in a composite form.
There are seven Bar Sarais (great sarais) are kept in a line before the Guru Ashan. One Chaki/ Pradip are lightening in front of each Bar Sarai. The sight is really super natural. There is no statue of any God or Goddess inside the Kirtan ghar.
Bhaj Ghar: – This is known as Monikut, valuable ornaments of gold and silver are kept in this area. Some representative statues are also kept here. The Bhaj Ghar is established in the east side of Kirtan Gharn in the north-south position. The architectural style of the Bhaj Ghar is unique.
Pat Chang: – The pat chang also carries a special architectural style. The pat chang is a made of wood and tin. It is constructed parallel to the Bhaj Ghar 8(eight) feet away from the later. The floor of the pat chang is 5 (five) feet above from the ground. Some special meetings are held here. Basically religious and administrative issues of satra are discussed here. It is honored as pure as the pat chang of king Kongsha.
Khatkhati Ghat: – There is a tiny cannel running to the side of Satre complex. It was known as Khatkhati Jan (cannel).Shree Madhab Ded, the great disciple of Srimanta Sankar Ded used to bath along with other bhakats in this cannel. For this purpose steps (khatkhati) was cojnstructed with stone. Hence, it was known as Khatkhati ghat. It bears the memories of great Madhab Deb. Scenic beauty of this jan is really attractive. There are some statues of child Krishna in the water of the jan (cannel). One modern guest house is constructed at the east bank of the cannel. Earlier traditional boat race was organized in this jan, but has government has stop the current of water by constructing embankment at the both point of the jan.
Math: – The math available in the Barpeta Satra is similar with the architectural style of Ahom king. Some precious Sankar –Madhab memorabilia are kept in the math i.e. a piece of stone (used of Sankar and Madhab to wash their feet ), the script of Sankar Deb”s Dasham and Madhab Deb’s Namghosha, Bhaktiratnayali and two “Negeri” currency, which was given to Madhura Das by Madhab Dev as remuneration. It is a general belief that no one tells a lie in front of the Math.
Sri Ram Ata’s Bhiti: – The house (Bhiti means house) of Sri Ram Ata was established opposite to the house of Madhab Dev’s house. Now a day one well is constructed here
, the water of this well is assumed as pure and water from this well is used in all the works of the Satra.
Bhora Ata’s Bhiti:- In the north-east position of the Satra there is a small but beautiful house. Mathura Das Ata spent his last days in this house as he can wholly concentrate on the holy works.
Bhagawat Graiha :-It is an open (without wall)English letter L size house, it is used as a prayer house, every day at the morning and evening time people come to listen the Bhagawat. In the time of Deol or holi the Bhagwat house is used as temporary medical house.
Sabha Ghar:– Sabha Ghar is also an open house in the north-west position of the Kirtan Ghar. General meeting of “Samoh Bhakat” (Community) are held here. There is a small house in the north side of the Sabha ghar it is known As Jagamohan Ghriha. In the last day of Doul Utsav the statue of Shamray is kept here for some moments.
Some other important touristy items in side the Satra Complex are Sankar Dev Library, Bhouna (theatre) stage, office of the managing committee etc.
Other Places of Tourist Interests (Vaishnaviate):
Barpeta is the centre of vaishnaviate culture. There are a good numbers of satras spreading across the district. Since the time immemorial these satras attract large numbers of devotees from all over the state, particularly during the festival and anniversaries. Among the satras that are regularly visited by the tourists are Sundhardiya Satra, Sunpura Satra, Ganakkuchi Satra, Satrakanara Satra ,Jania Satra etc.
The Barpeta town is divided into 22 Hattis that are inhabited by the devoted followers and families of the gurus, which are administered by the Barpeta Satra administration. This unique feature is not found in any place in Assam.
Let’s find out the major tourist attraction of Barpeta:
1. Chinpara Vithi: Chinpara Vithi is the place where Srimanta Sankardeva landed from his boat at Barpeta on the bank of Palengdhi Bori, which is presently called Palengdhihati. The saint stayed here for six months to propagate his faith. This place is located about ½ KM north of Barpeta Kirtan Ghar. The namghar established by the guru still exists here.
2.Sundardhiya Satra: Located near Barpeta Town. This is a satra played an important rule in expanding vaishnavism and reformation. Sri Madhabdeva founded the satra and composed the ‘Bhakti Ratnakar’ and ‘Namghosha’ here in the original vithi (Foundation) of the satra. The great saint during his sojourn here dug a well preserved till today and water of the well is considered holy. Three gurus Asanas (Chair) placed in the name of Srimanta Sankardeva, Sri Madhabdeva and Sri Badhula Ata.
3. Ganakkuchi Satra: Established by Sri Madhabdeva and stayed for more than eighteen years. A large number of Sachipat Puthis (Books written on the leaves of a special kind of tree) are preserved in this satra. It is situated within the radius of Barepta Municipality.
4. Baradi Satra: This satra was also established by Sri Madhabdeva. The common people were greatly influenced by the teaching of this great scholar. This satra became an important centre of vaishnaviate learning.
5. Gorokhiya Gosair Thaan: Sri Narayan Das Thakur Ata, a disciple of Srimanta Sankardeva came to offer his devotion that said to be founded by some cow herds (Gorokhiya). The building of this Thaan has a close resemblance of the Barpeta Kirtan Ghar. The Thaan covers an area of 25 Bighas green land, where Doul festival is organized annually with pomp and splendor.
Suggestion and Recommendation:
Following steps can be taken to develop Barepta Kirtan Ghar to boost up the cultural tourism and over all development of Barpeta Kirtan Ghar:
1. Infrastructural development (i.e. road connectivity, guest house, one museum etc.) should be done to attract more tourists.
2. Tourism and cultural ministry of Assam Government should initiate marketing activities through print & electronic media.
3. Government should try to get the Brindabni Bastra from British Museum. Non-government organization should also initiate awareness programmes to gain the public opinion for the same.
4. Assam Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. can launch special package tour from Guwahati on weekends.
The Barpeta Kirtan Ghar is the centre of Neo-Vaishnaviate culture of Assam. But unfortunately Government of Assam in not interested to boost its tourism potentiality. In 2000 the Sangeet Natak Academy recognized Satriya Nritya as a classical dance, yet after the recognition state government has not taken any bold initiate for the conservation and preservation of the same. On the other hand, thousand bighas of land belonging to Barpeta Satra is under the illegal possession. This is the high time to do something for the preservation, conservation and development of Barepta Kirtan Ghar. Every Barpeita as well as Assamese community should loud their voice for the greater interest of this unique place.
The Barpeta Kirtan Ghar has immense potentiality for future study and research.
Aldhara: Personal attendant of Satradhikar or a superior monk.
Athpariya: Officer who keeps vigil at satra (literally, having eight stages of a day of night.
Bahar: Temporary camp for Satradhikar during periodical visit to villages.
Borgeet: Devotional songs in classical tunes particularly composed by Sankardeva and Madhabdeva.
Bayan: Officer-in-charge of instrumental music.
Bhagavati: Ecclesiastical officer engaged in reading and expounding the Bhagavata.
Bhajana: Higher form of ordination.
Bhakat: Monk, initiated disciple.
Bharali: Provision keeper of the satra.
Bhaona: Religious theatrical performance.
Mahapurushiya: A person who follows the religion of Sankardeva.
Samuh: The voter community of Barpeta Satra.
Kar: Lavy paid by the Samuh to the Satra.
Dhar: Fine as punishment for violating the mahapurushiya norms.
Pala: Every person to render his service towards the satra in accordance.
Recommanded Further Reading:
1. Dr. Uday Nath: Barpetar Sanskritik Burnji, 2001
2. Gokul Pathak: Barpeta Satrar Itihas, Amar Desh Brakasan, Barepta, Fifth Edition, 2003.
3. B K Barua: Sankardeva, Vaishanava Saint of Assam
4. Brirendra Nath Dutta: Assam the Emerland Treasure & Land.
5. S N Sarma: Neo-Vaishnaviate Movement and Satra Institute of Assam
6. Janice Darbari: Srimanta Sankardeva: The Living Legend, Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi-14, First Edition, 1998.
Note: The study was made for academic purpose. Specially to know the tourism potentiality of Barpeta. I express my heartiest gratitude to all the concerned for their support and information.