Saturday, October 6, 2012

Rhythm Resonance

I had first visited the Batadrava Than at Bordowa in Nagaon district of Assam as a child. I do not remember much of that visit except heaps of salt outside the prayer hall and a peacock. Recently when I was my hometown Nagaon, my father suggested a trip to the Than. We were quite surprised as it is very unlike my father to plan trips. So obviously, we all happily obliged.
The entrance
History:
Sri Sri Batadrava Than is founded by Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva. The word ‘Than’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Sthan’ meaning place. Than refers to the residential religious institutions established by Srimanta Sankardeva. He established the first ever Kirtanghar (prayer hall) in Bordowa in 1468. Another fact that adds to the importance of this place is that the saint himself was born in Alipukhuri-Bordowa in 1449.
Alipukhuri to Batadrava
Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardeva (1449–1568), was an Assamese Vaishnavite saint-scholar, playwright, social-religious reformer and a colossal figure in the cultural and religious history of Assam, India. He is credited with providing a thread of unity to Assam straddling two major kingdoms (Ahom and Koch kingdoms), building on past literary activities to provide the bedrock of Assamese culture, and creating a religion that gave shape to a set of new values and social synthesis. The religion he started, Eka Sarana Nama Dharma (popularly known as Mahapuruxiya Dharma), a monotheistic vaishnavite religion, was part of the Bhakti movement then raging in India. Today, the religion he preached is practiced by a large population, and Sattras (monasteries) that he and his followers established continue to flourish and sustain his legacy. He is also regarded as the father of the modern Assamese race. ‘Eka Sarana Nama Dharma’ is based on the simple philosophy that one should worship none but one God who is Lord Krishna (Eka Deva, Eka Seva, Eka Biney Nahi Keva). Batadrava or Bordowa was the centre of the saint’s activities and so came to be regarded as the Dvitiya Vaikuntha (second heaven).

The Batadrava Than is the first Than or institution set up Srimanta Sankardeva to propagate the religion he started. He built the ‘monikut’ along with the Kirtanghar or Namghar and the ‘Cari-Hati’ (four clusters of quaterers) for accommodation of his disciples. The full fledged Than complex came up in 1509. The ‘Simhasana’ or ‘Guru Asana’ (altar of God) was placed in the ‘Monikut’ and a copy of the ‘Bhagavata’ was placed on it without any idol.

(History courtesy: www.wikipedia.com & www.bordowathan.com)
Kirtanghar
Our trip:Although we had planned to leave for Bordowa early, we reached the Than around 11.20 am. It was Sunday and it had been raining heavily in the morning, which made us sleep a little more. The Than is around 21 kms from our residence. This monsoon, Assam is witnessing a bad case of floods and we witnessed a glimpse of it on our way to the Than. The nearby villages had been inundated by water and the villagers have built makeshift homes for themselves and their livestock on either side of the road itself. Some people were building homes, while some were seen taking a swim in the flood water and some were having fun fishing.

When we reached the Than, prayers were already going on in the kirtanghar. Like all other devotees, we were also wearing a gamocha on our shoulders. As devotees came pouring in, an elderly bhakat (priest) kept spreading additional sitting mats inside the hall. We handed over the fruit items and salt to the assigned priests and settled down for the prayers. The ambience of the prayer hall is serene and the same serenity seems to transcend into one’s being with the resonating rhythmic prayers.
Shilikha tree
The Shilikha (Myrobalan) tree, sitting under which Srimanata Shankardeva used to write the scriptures, is still very healthy after all these years. It is right next to the kirtanghar. The Akashiganga pool, which is formed by the waters of the nearby Akashiganga waterfall, is full of fishes. If you want to see the fishes, all you need to do is to throw some muri (puffed rice) in the water. There are also some swans in the premises who keep on grunting sadly till you feed them some prasad. When I had visited the place as a child, there were peacocks and deers too. But this time, none were to be seen around.
Fishes in Akashiganga
There is a pond called Hati Pukhuri near the priests’ quarters. In the recent past, guest houses for the devotees have also come up. The premises of the Than are clean although the visiting devotees do manage to litter here and there.

There is also a museum which displays items from the saint’s time. But unfortunately we visited on a Sunday, and the museum remained closed. You can also see a blind man who keeps singing soulfully while playing a stringed instrument.

The whole experience of visiting the Than was calming and soothing. Personally I feel it is better to visit the place in off season, as there is lesser number of devotees around and the tranquility of the place is more profound. And when we left the premises of the Than, I could still feel the resonating rhythms of the prayers. Being the foundation stone of the modern Assamese society, Batadrava Than is definitely worth a visit by every Assamese and Assam visitor alike.

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Loved that you dropped by. It would lovely to know how you feel about this post too :)