The satradhikar of a 360-year old vaishnavite monastery on Majuli island in Assam has quit and also bid adieu to celibacy to enter into wedlock, creating ripples across the state, with some even terming it as a major blow to the tradition and sanctity of the satras.
Haridev Goswami, satradhikar or pontiff of Garamur Satra, established way back in 1656, walked out of its premises on Thursday and set off for his native village, a week after he had made his intentions known by calling a meeting of the managing committee of the satra.
Local reports said even as Goswami left the satra, hundreds of devotees owing allegiance to Garamur Satra gathered there. Some bid him a tearful farewell, while others expressed anguish over the satradhikar allegedly hurting the tradition and sanctity of the institution. Quitting brahmacharyya (celibacy), he will revert to his original name Ranjan Goswami and get married to Anju Khataniar of Jhanji next Tuesday.
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“I have quit as satradhikar. I am now an ordinary devotee of the satra,” Goswami said, indicating that the sanctity of the satra would have been affected only if he had got married while holding on to his position. While traditionally most satras select their satradhikar from among those who join the institution at an early age — some even at the age of three or four, 54-year old Goswami had, however, joined the Garamur satra when he was around 23.
“It is a fact that the satradhikar’s decision to take up a family life has directly hit the centuries-old tradition and sanctity of the satra institution initiated by Srimanta Sankaradeva in the 16th century. The only saving grace is that he has resigned and left the satra to proceed with his personal wish,” said Lila Mahanta, president of Asom Satra Mahasabha, an umbrella body of over 800 satras in Assam.
All the satras, however, do not practice celibacy, with Mahanta pointing out that it is important for those satras that practice celibacy to preserve and propagate that tradition. “Not all satras practice celibacy. But those which practice it should be able to maintain and protect that tradition initiated by their founders,” Mahanta said.
Pitambardeva Goswami, satradhikar of Auniati Satra, another important satra in Majuli, however, said it was a personal decision that would not in anyway lower the sanctity or image of the Garamur satra. “It would have been different if he had decided to get married while he was still in office. He has resigned, and is no longer a satradhikar,” Goswami said.
Satras are Vaishnavite monasteries, which, unlike Buddhist viharas or Hindu maths, go beyond propagating religion. They operate as centres of fine arts. Saint-reformer Sankaradeva sees them as epicenters of socio-economic and cultural activity.