The Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha

The Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha, established in 1930, is the largest socio-religious organization in Assam. Its roots may be traced to the early 20th century when the great Sankaradeva Movement, afflicted with several ills, was in urgent need of reform.

Vicious Casteism

According to Dr Maheswar Neog, some sections of Assam Vaisnavas had begun tolerating and even “trysted with heresies” emphatically denounced by Sankaradeva, Madhavadeva, Damodaradeva and all the other saint-reformers.

And along with this has come the disappearance of one of the finest contents of religion, catholicity.

He was referring to the vicious casteism that threatened to tear apart the very fabric of Assam Vaisnavism, nay Assamese society. In fact, the situation was so bad that even the Nāmghars, the most democratic of all institutions, were getting segmented on the basis of caste (Cantlie, 1984). And, quite unsurprisingly, almost all of these disturbing developments were accompanied by a gross dilution of Sankaradeva’s core ideology.

The Rise of the ‘Reform Sects’

At this axial period, as in other parts of India, so also in Assam, several socially conscious individuals came together, formed organizations and embarked on a program of reform. Thus, while literary stalwarts like Lakshminath Bezbaroah fought the social evils through the pen on the intellectual front, at the grass-roots level, numerous organizations like Prārthanā Sabhā, Jnānmālini Sabhā etc held study circles, Kirttana-ghosā reading sessions, religious seminars etc in every nook and corner of the state.

Audrey Cantlie who surveys the period in The Assamese, writes:

The reform sects of the 1930s can be viewed as a transformation of the traditional religious system... to meet the requirements of citizenship in a modern democratic state.

In their view, the original message of Sankaradeva has been corrupted in the course of transmission so that it no longer corresponds to the religion of the founder.

And therefore:

the reform sects seek, on the basis of his (Sankaradeva’s) writings, to abolish caste and introduce widespread social reforms.

But although many organizations had sprung up, the necessity of an umbrella organization which would unite all of these into one body, was increasingly felt. In order to fill this void, the Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha came into existence.

The Sangha is born

This became possible when two persons, Ramākānta Muktiār and Haladhar Bhuyān came together at Nagāon in the year 1928 and formed a small ‘publicity centre’ at a place called Palāsani near Nagāon town with the active support of the Jnānamālini Sabhā. This centre was named as Sankara Sangha in 1930. Attracted by its ideology, all those scattered units which had been engaged in reform activities since 1909-10 now came together under its umbrella and the reform activity gathered momentum. Eminent scholars and intellectuals of the period such as Gopikā Ballabh Goswāmi, Dambarudhar Baruāh, Bhuban Chandra Bhuyān, Rāmeswar Barooah and many others led the Sangha in its initial years.

The formation of the Sangha had a massive impact all over Assam. It had to face stiff resistance from the protagonists of orthodoxy and many public debates were organized in different places of Nagāon, Kāmrup, Sivasāgar, Jorhāt and Golāghāt districts. There was a marathon debate for long 23 days in Barpetā.

Impressive Victories

The Sangha registered impressive victories in these debates. Much of the credit behind the success of the Sangha during those early years goes to Haladhar Bhuyān who was an excellent organizer and prime strategist. In one public meeting held at Suwālkuchi, he placed Rupees 2000 in a bundle on the stage and announced it as a reward for anybody who could prove Sankaradeva’s religion as implemented by the Sangha to be contrary to the Hindu sāstras. Although there were many scholars assembled on that occasion, nobody dared to come forward.

As a result of these victories, the credibility and popularity of the Sangha increased by leaps and bounds. The first ever state level committee of the Sangha was formed on February 4, 1934 in Sankaradeva Mandir premises of Nagāon town. The fourth conference (adhibesan), held in 1935 was presided over by Nilamani Phukan, the great litterateur, as Padādhikār. As per his suggestion, the name of the organization was changed to ‘Sri Sri Sankaradeva Sangha’. Later, this name was changed yet again in the North Lakhimpur session of the Sangha (1970), when it became Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha.

Support and Goodwill

From the very beginning, the Sangha received the support and goodwill of a wide cross-section of society in Assam. Enlightened Satrādhikārs like Pitāmbar Deva Goswāmi (Garmur Sattra), Tirthanāth Goswāmi (Dhalar Sattra), Gahan Chandra Goswāmi (Nikāmul Sattra) and others presided over the annual sessions of the Sangha. The Sāhityarathi of Assam Lakshmināth Bezbaroāh sent his best wishes to the Sangha in a message that was read out in the 1933 session. He suggested that the new monthly journal of the Sangha be named as Nāma Dharma’. Except for a temporary break during the height of the freedom struggle, this journal has been regularly published.

Many other intellectual giants also joined the Sangha. The Silver Jubilee Session in 1956 was presided over by eminent scholar, Dimbeswar Neog as Padādhikār. A new thinking was infused into the Sangha and emphasis was given on opening of separate wings for the growth and nourishment of Sankari literature and culture. Bishnu Prasād Rābhā inaugurated the cultural function of this session.

The Srimad-Bhagavata (12 Cantos) published by the SanghaThe head-quarter of the Sangha was established in Kalangpār, Nagāon on July 27, 1969. A cultural centre was established in Guwahati in 1985. The cultural wing of the Sangha was started in 1957 followed by the formation of a literary wing . It has, over the years, published many important books and monographs, chief among which are the complete works of Srimanta Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva, the 12 Cantos of the Srimad-Bhāgavata and the English translation of the Kirttana.

The Sangha has come a long way since its inception in 1930. It has evolved into one mighty organization having about 6,000 primary units today. It has also drawn up a number of schemes like the setting up of an university, Mahapurusa Srimanta Sankaradeva Viswavidyālaya. It has also operationalized a bank to implement the concept of micro-credit. Besides, the youth wing is working for the self-employment of the youths in different parts of the state through its volunteer force. The Sangha has also set up 60 schools in the state.

The Primary Focus remains..

But the primary focus of the Sangha remains on the propagation of the pure creed of Sankaradeva at the grass-roots level, putting an end to all class and caste distinctions along with other obscurantist practices and of course putting an end to the religious distortion of the Vaisnava faith. These are the ideals which drive the Sangha in its endeavour to build a robust and healthy society in Assam, marching forward in every sphere - the vision of Srimanta Sankaradeva.

Top ↑