By Dr. Kailash Kumar Mishra, NewAgeIslam.com
It is an anthropologist’s journey to “Hajo – a Triveni-sangam, tri-confluence, of three religions, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism.” All live in complete harmony without any animosity and differences. All are treated as the brothers and sisters of same great ancestors. They are the people of the land first and believers of Hinduism, Islam or any other religion later.
I got an opportunity to visit Calicut of Kerala, Kenduli of West Bengal, Simdega of Jharkhand, Sarisab-Pahi village of Mithila, Bihar and Hajo of Assam. This was an anthropological tour to know the attitude of people towards harmony and living together with other religious groups, communities, Tribes and Castes; to know the trends of conflicts and indigenous manners and measures of conflict resolution; to know the actual manners of unity in diversity in the practical field. Given here are the 15-day field accounts of my visit to Hajo, Assam I commenced in January and February 2005.
Hajo is a big Block-level village in the Kamrup District in Assam. It is about fourteen miles to the northwest of Guwahati, the capital city of Assam and the district headquarters of Kamrup. Hajo was a great centre of culture and learning. It served as the camp of the Mohammadans during there invasions of Assam and was included in the Koch kingdom. The Rangia Sub-Division bound the north side of the Hajo Development Block and Kamalpur Development Block falls in the east. The south side of the Block is bounded by the Soalkuchi Development Block and Barkhetri Revenue Circle under Nalbari District falls in the west. Paddy is the principal crop grown in the area. Paddy fields lie mostly around the village settlement area. The settlements are usually in the form of clear clusters of houses or hamlets.
The houses are arranged on either side of metal pathways. Each domicile area is demarcated by bamboo fencing from the adjacent domiciles. Within each domicile area, a number of huts are arranged around a central courtyard. The rear part of each domicile area has lush vegetation made up of carefully tended fruit trees – banana, coconut, and betel nut mostly – and bamboo groves. It is these trees that give the village a very green and shady appearance.
Hajo is a multicastes and multi-religious village. It has a sizeable Muslim population. There are many CGI sheet roofed houses with brick walls and cement floors which have been constructed in the recent years. The huts are constructed encircling an open courtyard called sotal.
Among the Assemese Hindus, usually one hut is kept reserved as a gosain-ghar, prayer house. If the presiding deity is Shiva, the gosain-ghar faces south. In other cases the hut faces west so that devotees offer their worship facing to the east. There are separate gohali, huts for cattle, dekhal, rice-husking lever and bharal-ghar, granary. The living house is the largest hut having several chambers used for sleeping, sitting and cooking purposes.
The villagers of Hajo recognize five different types of houses: Chali-ghar, Kheri-ghar, Assam type, Bombay type and R.C.C. building. The Chali-ghar is the most ordinary type of construction having single slope roof either made of thatch or CGI sheets. Kheri-ghar stands for thatch-roofed hut. This is the traditional type of house. A Kheri-ghar could be constructed both at low cost and high cost. When built quite elaborately, a Kheri-ghar appears to be the ideal type in the rural setting. The Assam type ghar is structurally similar to a well-built Kheri-ghar. However, in this case timber door and window frames and beams are used in place of bamboo. The ‘Bombay-type’ houses are actually well fashioned Assam-type houses. In this case walls are made of brick and glazed windows and ventilation systems are used. Finally, the RCC-type buildings: concrete structured buildings that have very recently come up in the village.
The Assamese women’s dress consists of two separate pieces of outer cloth: one, mekhla to cover the lower part of body; and the other, chador, to cover the upper part. When dressed up in mekhla and chador, a woman appears as if she is wearing a saree – the usual single piece of cloth common in India. As undergarments, petticoat is worn to cover the lower part and blouse to cover the bosom.
The way a woman dresses up in mekhla and chador today, is refined practice of the way they used to do earlier. In the earlier days, there were no undergarments like petticoat and blouse. The women used to wear mekhla around their bosom that is nowadays worn around the waist. Another piece of loincloth – which is not at all used nowadays – is called methoni. It is piece of cloth wrapped around the waist over the mekhla. The chador which in earlier days was called riha was used to cover the bosom and the head.
The Assamese men wear kamiz, loose shirt and dhuti and churia, loin piece around the waist. In earlier days when there was no kamiz, a piece of cloth folded thrice was taken around the right shoulder. It was called sellong. Both dhuti and kamiz are white unless the kamiz is made of muga – the golden silk of Assam. The men folk, particularly during certain specific celebrations, tie a pagri, turban. They also take a gamocha, towel around the shoulder. The gamocha is small piece of cloth of white colour having designs in red along the borders. A gamocha with elaborate floral design is called phulam-gamocha, floral towel.
In Assam, the gamocha has a number of cultural connotations. The women weave it in their loom and offer it as a token of love to their beloved members: husbands, parents or brothers, particularly during the Rangoli Bihu, the Spring Festival of Assam. A gamocha is also offered as a token of gift to a guest to honour him. This is one of the material items that symbolize the culture of the people.
These days the majority of the men folk wear western types of dresses like trousers and shirt. The children and unmarried girls are usually attired in popular Indian dress like churidar, frocks, etc. However, married women invariably use mekhla and chador. Younger women also occasionally wear sarees.
The colour preferred for mekhla and chador is basically white. But both the mekhla and the chador always should be intricately designed with floral motifs. In case of widows, the colour remains the same but these invariably should be devoid of any design or any embroidery work. The Hindu widows are also forbidden from wearing any ornaments.
The common fibers used to make mekhla and chador are cotton, muga – the golden silk of Assam – and pat, silk. Dresses made out of cotton are used in day-to-day life.
Among the Hindu Assamese, monogamy is the culturally preferred rule. Jati, Caste is an endogamous social unit, while gotra, clans within it are exogamous. However, inter-caste marriage, particularly between some non-Brahmin castes, is quite common these days. The people also prohibit marriage within the gotra and agnatic kin circles (bhagi, i.e. lineage) consisting of descendents up to seven generations. The Brahmins follow the rule of caste endogamy and gotra and bhagi exogamy more strictly than other Hindu castes.
Among the Assamese Muslims, marrying more than one woman is not a taboo. Nevertheless, in Hajo such cases are few. While Islam permits both parallel and cross cousins marriage, in this village such marriages are not encouraged. The incidence of talak, marriage dissolution is also low among the Muslims of Hajo. Among both the Hindus and the Muslims, nuclear family is the conventionally accepted norm these days.
Nomenclature of Hajo: Myth, anecdotes and History
The villagers, Government officials, local people and scholars give layers of interpretations about the history and nomenclature of Hajo. Mohammad Yasin, a local Musil, associates Hajo with Haj, the ultimate pilgrimage of the believers of Islam – Mecca, being in most cases one-in-a lifetime affair.
Some other villagers believe that the word Hajo is a Bodo name used for a place. (There are some households of the Bodos in the village). In the Bodo language ‘Ha’ is used for land and ‘Gojou’ for high. Ha-Gojou in their combination means highland. ‘Hajo’, therefore, is a distortion or simplification of ‘Ha-Gojou’.
Historically, Hajo enjoys great significance in Assam. It is known by different names in the different phases of history. In the eleventh century AD, for example, Hajo was described in the Kalika Purana as Apurnrbhava and Manikuta. In 11th century AD, it again came into picture and it was called Vishnpuskar as described in Joginitantra. In eighteent century AD, Hajo was described as Manikutagrama. The word Manikutagrama is found mentioned in Darrang Rajbonsavali by Surjyakhari Daivajna. During the Ahom period (dynasty) Hajo was known in its present name.
The believers of Buddhism add one more dimension in the nomenclature of Hajo. The local Buddhists and those coming from Leh and Laddakh often tend to believe that Lord Buddha died in Hajo. His death pained his disciples, who in their painful ecstasy cried, ‘Ha-ju’, meaning the setting of the Sun.
I discussed the nomenclature of Hajo with some local scholars in Guwahati. One historian told me that ‘Hajo is named after the Mech King Haju, who probably ruled in the 15th century AD.
Joginitantra, Markandeya Purana, Darrang Rajbonsavali and almost every religious writing and scripture make mention of Hajo with high-toned praises. Ananta Kandali, a creative villager of Hajo, wrote fascinating verses in praise of his sacred village in following lines:
Hajo hena nama babitra uttama
Thana Kamarupa majhe
Manikuta giri sikharata ache
And Sajjad helped me to make a working translation of the above lines:
“Hajo – its very name is sacred a great. It is splendid place of Kamrup. Hayagriba, king of the angels, resides at the top of the Manikuta Hill.”
Harmony in the Religious and Sectarian Diversity
Hajo is a multi-castes and multi-religious village. There are both Hindus and Muslims living together as single village community.
Besides the different caste groups among the Hindus, the people are aligned on the basis of religious sects. There are Sakta and several sub-sects of Vaisnavas. Among the Hindus, the affiliation to one’s bhagi, lineage is very conspicuous.
All the people belonging to a bhagi observe pollution period following a death or a birth in the lineage. This group of people is also called gyali. On the other hand, people who are related through marriage are called kutumba, affinal kin. The gyali and the kutumba are the people who must be invited to any socio-religious celebrations: marriage, puberty rite, death rites, birth ceremony, etc.
Despite so much underlying variations in terms of caste, sect and religion, the people of the village are integrated into one single village community. In matters of village development activities, the caste, sect and religion, the villagers are integrated into one single village community. In matters of activities relating to the development of village, the caste, sect and religious differentiations of the people become secondary. In different village-level corporate bodies and institutions, there are proportionate representation from different castes and religious sections of the people.
Nevertheless, social alignment at different levels is there. In Hajo, the villagers live in several subas, clusters or hamlets. Each suba is basically a caste or religion-based concentration. This speaks of the presence of a clear sense of caste or religious sentiments among the people. Among the Hindus, castes have never been very rigid endogamous groups. Under the influence of Vaishnavism of Sankaradeva – the fifteenth century saint-reformer – the caste restrictions further lost ground. Vaishanavism not only diminished the rigidity of caste system but also brought the tribes under the pan-Assamese social fold. The tribe-caste continuum has been a phenomenon ever since in Assam, though somewhat weakened in the recent decades.
However, the upper caste Brahmins and the Kayasthas have been little affected by the egalitarian outlook of the Vaishanavism. They are still mostly Sakta and followers of Brahminical rituals. The Brahmins and the Kayasthas are the two upper castes who still maintain some rigidity with regard to interactions with other castes. They are quite rigid in their rule of caste endogamy.
However, all the Brahmins are not orthodox. Many are quite liberal and have already learnt how to live and adjust in today’s world.
According to some, inter-caste and inter-religious relations have become easier with the weakening of several avoidance and untouchability practices. Hindu _Muslim relationship has become closer. Many Muslims express their positive feelings towards this unity.
A Muslim youth came to Sajjad and said, “The Hindus are nowadays changing with regard to their observances of untouchability. In earlier days, Muslims were not allowed even to enter into a Hindu residential quarters, particularly in the case of Bramhins. At the same time, a Hindu never used to visit a Muslim home. Whenever a Muslim had to visit a Hindu home to meet someone, he was required to wait in the courtyard. He was never allowed to sit on any of the furniture used by the inmates of the house. If by chance tea was offered, it was given in a separate utensils kept reserved for such a visitor. Not only that, the visitor himself was required to wash the utensils after its use. The Hindus have changed a lot. Nowadays, they do not act in this fashion” he said.
The villagers of Hajo, I observed and they confirmed, are divided into several social units on the basis of lineage, caste, hamlet, sect and religion. However, when there is a question of issues relating to the village as a whole, such as the development of the village, the villagers are readily united. The villagers come together to execute any public work in the village. At hamlet level, often youths of the respective hamlets join to work collectively. Generally, the different village-level organizations provide the forum to the villagers to work collectively.
The religious life of the Hindus of Assam cannot be understood without knowing two important institutions: the Namghar and the Satra. These two institutions have come into being under the influence of Sankardeva’s teachings of Vaishanavism. These two institutions have virtually become symbols of Assamese culture.
The Namghar is a community prayer hall. The hall has a rectangular ground plan that is divided into two compartments. The inner one (sanctum sanatorium), which is comparatively smaller, is called mandir and the outer one is sabhaghar. In the mandir part, thapana (seat) as a symbol of the presiding deity is installed. The raised plinth upon which the thapna is laid is called mandap. In the sabhaghar, the devotees gather as a congregation to sing Nam, devotional songs, or for scripture reading sessions in front of the Thapana.
The people through Namghar Samiti, elected body, manage the Namaghar. The Namghar Samiti is always a single caste organization. A man who is assigned the duty of maintenance and upkeep of the Namghar is called Namghariah.
The Satra is another important religious institution. It is highly organized Namghar where the head or the preacher stays permanently. The activities of a Satra are quite elaborate. The head of the Satra is designated as Goswami, Satradhikar or Gosain. Such a person is held in high esteem by the followers. In a Satra, the Satria dance, Nam (devotional singing), scripture reading and many other religious acts are performed. It is a centre for the cultivation of devotional art and culture. This way, a Satra is a religious – cultural center among the people.
There are several spots in and around Hajo which are believed to be the abode of particular deities. Such spots are called Than. A Than is named after the name of the presiding deity, e.g. Shivathan and Gopalathan. Generally a Than is an open space without any construction. A few pebbles jumbled together beneath a banyan tree and a temporary fencing around the spot constitutes a Than. In the evening, some ladies may light an oil lamp in front of a Than. Such a practice of lighting oil lamp is not regular feature in all the Thans. However, during specific ritual, a Than is elaborately decorated by lighting several chakis, oil lamps.
The followers of Hinduism in Hajo are divided into Sakta and Vaishnava sects. The Vaishnavas are further divided into a number of sects: Sankardeviy Mahadeviya, Harideviya, Damodardeviya and recently, a new one Krishnaguru has emerged.
There are certain differences, both in conceptual terms as well as in terms of realistic practical observances between the different sects of Vaishnavism. The followers of Sankaradeva and Madhabdeva are opposed to Brahminical rituals. On the other hand, the followers of Harideb and Damodardeb observe Brahminical rituals and engage Brahmin priests. Followers of both sects, Sankardeviya and Madhabdeviya light one single chaki, oil lamp in Namghar. The single lamp symbolizes one’s faith in one particular god (Krishna) and one Nam (devotional songs devoted to one Lord). Among the Harideviyas and Damodardeviyas Lord Vishnu is the presiding deity. Every year they perform Satyanarayana (another form of Vishnu) puja in nearby every home. In the Brahminical rituals, the Harideviya and the Damodardeviya followers engage Brahmin priests.
The central philosophy of the Krishnaguru sect is that all living beings are equal having the same soul sustenance. The division between upper and lower; pure and impure; male and female; demon and sadhu, etc., are immaterial. If one person pays obeisance by bowing before another, the latter also has to do the same in return, irrespective of his position, sex, age or any other indicator of status. The mantra, slogan of this sect is “Where there is life, there is God, Shiva.”
Formation of different sects within Vaishnavism is an all-Assam phenomenon and Hajo follows the same trend.
Though divided into sects, the villagers present a united front on most occasions. There is no strong cult-like feeling shown by the members of a sect. In Hajo, a religious institution like Namghar, is never built separately on sect basis. The villagers sit together in Nam performance. There are idioms and songs expressing overall unity in Vaishanavism. There is a popular diha nam, folk song that goes like this:
Guru amar dujana
Sankar sunya Mahadeb Chandra
Jagat pohar karila
Charijana guru amar
The above-mentioned song glorifies Sankardeva and his immediate disciple, Madhabdeva, by equating them with the Sun and the Moon respectively, who have enlightened the world. Then it goes on to say that all the four gurus – including Hardeva and Damodardeva – are same in body and soul.
The people of Hajo observe birth and death ceremonies of all the four gurus, irrespective of their sect affiliations. The Sakt Hindus who are not followers of Sankardeva observe Sankardeva’s tithi like with same fan and fare.
In Hajo, both Hindus and Muslims are living as members of the same village community. There is past history of major Hindu Muslim conflict in the village. Small clashes are however reported between the two groups of people, particularly youths at times. In such cases, the sensible village elders settle disputes and appropriate punishments are imposed upon the wrong doers.
Hajo is famous as Panchtirthas, five pilgrim centres, in Assam: the temple of Hayagriba-Madhab, the temple of Kedareswara (or Kedara Shiva), the temple of Kamalweswara, the temple of Kameswara, the temple of Ganesha. The Hayagriba-Madhava temple is also considered to be the Chaitya of Mahamuni Buddha. The Buddhists from Tibet, Nepal, Leha and other regions visit this temple mainly during the wither and offer their prayer according to the Buddhist rites, rituals and style. There is a small and a very beautiful majar of Giasuddin, a Muslim saint, is located in Hajo on a hillock opposite Manikuta. It is called Poa Mecca. The believers of Islam in the nearby locality visit this place with respect and offer their prayers. All these shrines or religious structures make Hajo an extraordinary place in Assam that maintains harmony in all respects in its diversity. Dipen Bhagabati, a local panda, priest, of Hajo says, “Hajo is a Triveni-sangam of three religions: Hindu, Buddhism and Islam. Every religion flourishes without disturbing the flow of others.”
The Hayagriba-Madhava temple however, figures more prominently in the religious history of Assam. The existence of this temple attests to the prevalence of Vaisnavism in Kamarupa. In fact, this temple can be termed as the nerve centre of the socio-cultural life of the area. The Hayagriba-Madhava temple is situated at the top of Manikuta, a hillock. It has a beautiful building – exhibiting the wonderful specimen of architecture and sculpture – which was constructed by the Koch king Raghudevanarayana in 1583 AD. However, the original temple was constructed, in all probability, in the 6th –7th century AD. A portion of the original temple still exists in the present building. Many scholars hold that the original building of the Hayagriba-Madhava temple belonged to a Buddhist chaity. Certain motifs of the original work, particularly a row of caparisoned elephants in high relief encircling the building appear to be specimens of the Buddhist architecture. The elephant motifs are identical to the decorative style of the cave temple at Ellora in Maharashtra. There is another temple like building adjacent to the main temple. It is called Daula-Griha and was constructed by king Pramatta Singha in 1750 AD.
A number of stone images and other things mostly in demolished condition are lying scattered in the precinct of the Hayagriba-Madhava temple. Among these a few stone slabs with lion motif are the most remarkable pieces of architecture. These are said to be the parts of an Ashokan pillar installed in the originals Buddhist chaitya, temple. Another masterpiece of art was one simhasana. The simhasana was decorated with winged lions made of ivory, in its four corners. Today the simhasana is not there but the broken pieces are lying unnoticed in an interior room of the temple. There are altoigether five images in the grbhagriha: Bura-Madhava, Hayagriba-Madhava, Calanta-Madhava, Vasudeva and Garuda.
The temple of Hayagriba-Madhava is said to be one of the oldest centres of worship of Vishnu in his Hayagriba or horse-headed form. Again from the days of yore it has been regarded by the Buddhist world as one of the most holy places connected with the life of Gautama the Buddha. Many Buddhist people as well as some scholars believe that the Buddha attained his mahaparinirvana somewhere in the present Hajo area. In winter, a number of Buddhist pilgrims from different parts of the world flock to Hajo. They claim the image of Bura Madhava of the temple to be that of the Buddha and call it Mahamuni.
I noticed during my visit to the temple complex that the believers of both the religions, Hindu and Buddhism, offered prayer in the temple according to their own rites and customs. This presents the most congenial atmosphere among the believers of two religions. The Hindu priest of the temple told me, “Yes, we know that the Buddhists come here to offer their prayer thinking that it is the temple of their God, Mahamuni Buddha. We have no problem with them. They worship the God according to their beliefs, rites and customs and we worship according to the Hindu beliefs, rites and customs. Why there should be any conflict among the pilgrims of two faiths? Everything goes here smoothly. We honour their sentiments and they honour Hindu sentiments. That’s all. There is complete harmony between us.”
Vaisnavism prevailed in Kamarupa at a time when the Brahmanical culture made considerable progress in the country and as evidence shows, the worship of both Visnu and his avaturas – incarnations – was prevalent in the land from early times. In the Santiparva section of the Mahabharata Vishnu is called Pragjyotisa Jyestha.
The Harsacarita of Bananhatta describes Bhaskaravarman (7th century A.D.) as belonging to Vaisnava family. Yuan Chwang, Budhhist pilgrim from China, states that Bhaskaravarman descended from Narayanadeva. However, Vaisnavism occupied only a subordinate position in the subsequent centuries and was revived again in the 13th century.
Vaisnavism became the popular religion of the land in the 15th century when Sankaradeva, the founder of the neo Vaisnavism in Assam began preaching his Bhakti Cult. The worship of the incarnation is a significant feature of Vaisnavism and this was introduced into Assam in about the 4th century A.D.
The most celebrated incarnation in the Vaisnava cult of the province is Krishna. In fact the Krishna legend formed an essential element of Vaisnavism in Kamarupa. Hayagriba (Lord Vishnu with horse head) is the name of one of the incarnations of Visnu. Under this name, he is specially worshipped in Assam even today in the Hayagriba Madhava temple. The temple is built on a hill called Manikuta.
As regards the origin of this avatara, the Santiparva section of the Mahabharata relates that at one time, while Vishnu was sleeping and Brahma was on the lotus, issued out of the navel of Vishnu, two demons Madhu and Kaitabha, who took away the Vedas from Brahma and went to Rasatala. Brahma, being much aggrieved at this, awoke Vishnu, and prayed for the recovery of the Vedas. Vishnu assumed the Hayagriba form, recovered the Vedas, and gave them to Brahma.
He then went to sleep in the northeast corner of the great sea in his Hayagriba form. The demons came to him and invited him to fight, in which they were killed. According to other accounts, it was the Asura Hayagriba who stole away the Vedas, which were subsequently recovered by Vishnu.
The Kalikapurana records that Vishnu in the form of Hayagriba killed the Fever-Demon (Jvarasura) in the Manikuta hill and lived there for the benefit of men, gods and asuras. Afflicted with fever and killing the Fever-Demon, Vishnu took recovery bath. It is called Apunarbhava because whosoever bathes here suffers no second birth.
The Yoginitantra gives a beautiful description of the sacred city Apunarbhava that has been identified with modern Hajo. According to this text the city of Apunarbhava was beautified with blue, red wild white palaces, defended by weapons and surrounded by moats. Day and night there was the uproar of festivities. It was full of temples, parks and lakes. Various kinds of lotuses were in the lakes where were seen swans sporting. The women of the city were very handsome with large eyes; their necks were adorned with diverse ornaments.
The original temple of Hayagriba-Madhava was destroyed by the Kalapahar, who also destroyed the temple of Kamakhya. The present temple, according to an inscription in the temple itself, was rebuilt by King Raghudeva Narayana, son of Sukladhwaj, in Saka 1505 (1583 A.D.). When it was completed, it was consecrated by the sacrifice of numerous human victims. The king also endowed the temple with grants of land. The translation of the inscription reads:
"There was a ruler on earth named Bisva Singh his illustrious son, the most wise king Malla Deb, was the conqueror of all enemies. In gravity and liberality and for heroism he had a great reputation, and he was purified by religious deeds. After him was born his brother Sukladhwaj, who subdued many countries. The son of this Sukladhwaj was King Raghudeb, who was like the greatest man of the Raghu race: his glories spread out in all directions; the Lord of Kamarupa, in obedience to the order of the destiny, is the slayer of the wicked, who was like water to the flames of the fire of sorrow of the vast populace. Of the seed of Sukladhwaj, a king was born of the name of Raghudeb, who consoles innumerable persons and is a worshipper of the feet of Krishna; the king coming of age has a temple built on the hillock called Mani hillock in 1505 Saka (1583 A.D.). The most skilled and efficient artisan Sridhar himself built it.”
Modem votaries of Hayagriba-Madhava temple have, to conceal mutilation, given it a pair of silver goggle- eyes, and a hooked, gilt or silvered nose, and the form is concealed from view by cloths and chaplets of flowers: but remove these and there is no doubt of the image having been intended for the "ruler of all, the propitious, the asylum of clemency, the all-wise,’ the lotus-eyed, the comprehensive Buddha. But some hold the view that at least from the sixteenth century, the temple has been considered to be one dedicated to Hayagriba-Madhava.
The principle of general layout of the temple and its adjuncts is quite in keeping with other temples met elsewhere in Kamarupa. The temple, as mentioned before, is built on a small hillock and a flight of stone steps composed of slab leads to the main precincts of the temple.
The temple derives its revenue from the land endowed on it by the kings. Artisans and. others are supported out of the temple funds. The chief priest of the temple is called Dalai. He is elected from among the local priests and holds office till his death. He resides in a large house situated at the foot of the hill, just below the temple. The temples of the Kamrup, district could be conveniently seen by camping at Gauhati which has all the tourist facilities.
The second important Hindu temple is dedicated to Kedareswara or Kedara Shiva. It finds mention both in the Kalikapurana and the Joginitantra. The main idol of Kedara is a big lingam of stone. It is called a svayambhu lingam. This lingam appears to be an ardhanarishwara form of Shiva. The lingam is kept always covered with a big metal bowl. It is difficult to ascertain the date of construction or the name the founder of the main building of the temple. In 1753 AD king Rajeswara Singha adjoined two walls in the Gateway of the temple. All pilgrims, whether believers of Vaishnava, Sakta or Saiva, visit this temple and offer their prayer to the Lord.
The temple of Kamaleshwara was one of the prominent Shiva temples of Hajo, claim the local people, in the past. The Kalikapurana and the Joginitantra have made special mention of this temple. Today the temple has lost its past glory and became a subordinate institution of the Kedar temple. This temple has a significant role in the sacred complex of Hajo. Probably, it was the centre Madan worship in the past. The Kalikapurana and the Joginitantra have attributed special importance to this temple. But for one reason or the other the temple has lost its original identity of a centre of Madan-Kama worship and has converted to a Shiva temple. The temple of Kamaleshwara was built by King Pramatta Singha in the 18th century. The building was completely demolished in the great earthquake of the 1897 AD. The present temple was constructed about the 1930s. Kameshwara temple possesses a Shiva lingam on its alter. There is another metal idol of the deity similar to the calanta idol of Kedara Shiva.
At the foot of the Kameshwara temple is the temple of Ganesha. On a giant elephant-shaped natural rock, king Pramatta Singha constructed the temple building in 1744 AD. The temple possesses a big image of Ganesha carved out on the elephant rock. This temple is called Deva Bhavana and is the meeting place of the other deities of the panchatirtha on special occasions.
Besides these temples known as panchatirthas, there is another important Hindu temple dedicated to Joy Durga, the Mother Goddess. King Lakshminatha Sinha built the temple in 1774 AD. There is ten-armed stone image of Durga on its alter. The temple has an independent establishment and administrative system.
The lofty Garurachala Hill beside the Kedar Hill contains a Muslim holy shrine. It is known as Poa Mecca and contains a mosque and the grave of a Muslim saint, probably a Sufi: Giyasuddin Auliya. A Persian epigraph at this site show that the old mosque, which is present no more, was built during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in AD 1657.
The grave here is believed to be of Giyasuddin Auliya who came in 16th century AD to preach Islam in this region. It is also believed that the preacher brought a lump of earth from Mecca and enshrined the same at a spot where the mosque was built in a later period. The orthodox Muslims believe that Poa Mecca blesses a pilgrim with one-forth of piety, which can be achieved by a pilgrimage to Mecca. Though situated at the peak of a lofty hill, Poa Mecca can be visited by a light vehicle through a well-pitched meandering road. Regarding Giyasuddin Auliya, nothing definite can be said. There are different myths associated with him. A section of scholars have argued that through this Muslim saint the Sufi movement spread to the whole of the north eastern part of India. People like Hazrat Azan Faqir, originally known as Shah Miran, is considered to be spiritual descendant of Giyasuddin Auliya. Author like Mohd.
Yaha Tamizi in his book Sufi Movement in Eastern India, says, “The Sufi had to travel a long way before coming over the eastern India. The number of Sufis in this region is not meagre. The whole of eastern India hummed with Sufistic activities during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries AD. It should be noted that the Sufi monasteries which developed as an institution, were private. They were patronized by the Sultans, no doubt, as they were highly educated and religious minded people. But they exercised no control over the institutions of the Sufis.”
I met Syed Abdul Kuddus Ali in Poa Mecca. He is the Khadim, President, of the Poa Mecca Trust. He said, “Giyasuddin Auliya was a saintly person. He was an ardent believer in non-violence. He was a propagator of humanity, brotherhood, peace and interfaith coexistence. His full name was Hazrat Shah Sultan Giyasuddin Rehmatullah Alaih. He was a son of a very rich Sultan of Iran. From his early childhood he was a man of very different nature. He had no interest in the worldly pleasures. One day in his dream the Prophet of Islam appeared and instructed him to propagate the message of Islam in the unknown world in a peaceful way. Very next day, like Gautma the Buddha, he left his kingdom, relatives and even motherland and with 70 more of his followers began his journey for the land he did not see in past. After a long troublesome journey, Giyasuddin Auliya came to Poa Mecca with all his 70 supporters and made a temporary shelter. After this, everyday he started delivering his speech about the significance of Islam. Gradually the people nearby villages got attracted to his sermons. He, however, did not force or compel anybody to embrace Islam under any pressure. Some people, influenced with his argument, converted to Islam. The basic concern of Giyasuddin Auliya was to spread the message of humanity.”
I saw a stone inscription in Poa Mecca. It reads:
Time Hijri 1067
Donor: Mohammad Sujauddin (AD 1657)
Started in the name of Allah who is full of love and compassion. All good qualities are attributable to Allah. The sustainer of the world, showering his love on all inspired by him. He is Mohammad. Allah says nobody is greater and nobler than Mohammad and his sacred descendants. One who builds mosques and believes in Allah, worships Him, offers Zakat and fears none accept Him, for them is a matter of hope that they find place amongst the blessed dead. Allah and His messenger say that whoever builds a mosque in this world will have seventy mosques built for him in the other world.
Emperor of the world, defender of the faith, good natured, prince and royal judge Sujauddin Mohammad, during whose time and tenure in Bengal, many important events took place, and during the time Muslims lived devoutly in peace and honour in the Sujabad province. And in this place Lutfulla from Shiraz builds the heavenly mosque. For the name and glory of the saints and with the blessings of Allah this sacred home be permanent, its foundation solid. When human intelligence asks for date then come the heavenly words – Holy home is enlightened, 1067 Hijri.
The Khadim of Poa Mecca was very liberal in his approach. He saw Islam as a religion of brotherhood and poor. He said, “The literal meaning of Poa Mecca has very wrongly cooked by my predecessor, Dil Muhammad.”
I intervened, “What is wrong in his explanation?’
The new Khadim replied, “Everything is wrong. He misled the Muslims, the locals and the visitors. He even influenced the historians with his false and propagandist attitude. According to him, Giyasuddin Auliya brought a lump of earth from Mecca and enshrined the same at a spot where the mosque was built in a later period. He also prorogues that Poa Mecca blesses a pilgrim with one-fourth of piety, which can be achieved by a pilgrimage to Mecca. But these are all meaningless explanations. Mecca has its own significance. For a Haj, you need to have huge amount of money to travel; you have to behave in the prescribed Islamic way; you have to follow many do’s and don’ts; but in Poa Mecca you are free. It is a mazar of a Sufi saint. You are free to come here at any time, wearing any dress; you have no restrictions on food or clothes. You offer namaz, prayer, one time or one hundred times, it is up to you; but in Mecca, during Haj, five namaz in a day is essential. Here you are at your complete liberty. Nobody bothers what you do. It is a sacred and powerful place.”
I said, “I did not know such greater details about this place!”
The boastful Khadim continued, “Poa Mecca does not belong to any religion. It belongs to humanity. It belongs to the people who love humanity, peaceful living and who have respect for non-violence. It is open for all people of all religions. People suffering from pain or trouble visit this place to get some miraculous treatment. And they are treated also. You can see how many Hindu boys and girls are moving here and there in the campus. Here is a cure for every disease or problem.”
“Then, what is the meaning of Poa Mecca?” I asked.
The Khadim responded, “Poa Mecca is distortion of Mo Kaam, house. Giyasuddin Auliya came here with his 70 dedicated disciples. They all visited the nearby villages and collected food for livelihood. They all were the chosen people of Allah. With the passage of time, they all died and their dead bodies were buried in this hillock. This way the hillock became the Mo kaam, home, of those 70 dead Sufi saints. But this was a bada, big, Mo kaam. The king of that time, influenced with the preaching ability of Giyasuddin Auliya, donated huge cultivable land of the villages, which were coming into its 10 miles radius. In Tuhibala village alone 4500 acres land was donated to Poa Mecca. And it was decided that one pua, one fourth, income or agricultural yields or produce would come to the Bada Mokaam. This two words; ‘pua’ and ‘Mokaam’ in after some years distorted as Poa Mecca.”
The Khadim further informed me that the Poa Mecca Trust is very old. Following are its members:
1) Syed Abdul Kuddus Ali, the Khadim, President of the Trust.
2) Syyed Mehtab Ali (A retired schoolteacher)
3) Mohammad Sirajjul Hussain Saikia (Advocate)
4) Alhaj Mohammad Lal Hussain
5) Mohammad Nazimmudin Saikia
The above-mentioned are elected members. Five members are elected form five miles’ radius of land revenue and 6 members are elected from 10 miles’ radius. Finally, three members are elected from Fakir tola. The entire activities of the Trust are done in a democratic style.
The Khadim believed that there is a very close relationship between the Hindus and Muslims of this locality. “Many Muslim villages, such as Kalitakushi, Bamanbari, Heerajani, Dolaitalla, retain the Hindu names. It gives an indication that earlier the ancestors of these villagers were Hindus. They changed their religion, but did not change the name of their villages. That way both, the Hindus and Muslims think that they are bothers or the sons and daughters of the same ancestors. This helps us to maintain harmony in the area. In this locality, as a result we have not faced any major clash between the followers of two religions.”
The Khadim projected the arrival of Muslims in India in the context of his understanding of the historical role of Islam. The Khadim portrays a romantically ideal picture of much of the history of the Muslim presence in India. Thus, he says, the first Muslims came to India 'supremely unconcerned with worldly aims and ambitions' guided only by ‘the lofty sentiment of religious service’. The message of equality and social justice that the early Sufis preached struck a powerful chord among the people, especially the oppressed ‘low’ castes, and scores of them embraced Islam at their hands.
For their part, successive Muslim kings of India are said to have been ‘men of courage and ambition’, who ‘carried the country to glorious heights of progress and prosperity’. They considered themselves as the ‘Divinely-appointed trustees of His [God’s] land and servants of His people’. The Muslims who came to India from abroad settled down in the country for good, thus making it their home. Thus, it was under Muslim rule that most of India was unified into one administrative unit and the country was brought into contact with the outside world.
Muslims helped develop new and rich styles of architecture, art, dress, language and literature, as well as promoting trade, agriculture and industry. More importantly, Islam provided the Indians with the concept of Divine Unity, bitterly critiquing polytheism, priesthood, idolatry and various superstitious beliefs and practices. Its message of social equality and women’s rights, too, had a profound impact, and many Hindu reformist sects owed their inspiration to this Islamic influence. In more recent times, Muslims also played a leading role in the struggle against British imperialism and for the cause of Indian freedom.”
I have never visited such a great village in my life. Hajo presents an extraordinary picture of parallel existence of multiple religions, all according to their own way of life without hurting the sentiments of others. I remembered the statement of the temple priest of the Hayagriba Madhava: “Hajo is a Triveni-sangam, tri-confluence, of three religions, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhism.”
1)Managing Trustee, Bahudha Uutkarsh Foundation. Dr. K. K. Mishra is an anthropologist. His contacts are: Email: email@example.com Mobiles: 09868963743, 09716526974; Postal Address: C/O Ramnandandulari, B2/333, Tara Nagar (Duggal Farm), Dwarka Sector – 15, Karola, New Delhi: 110078.
2)Jatha jiba tatha Siba.
Copyright 2010: New Age Islam Foundation
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