Saurath Sabha, India
Posted on: Wednesday, Jan 5, 2011
Submited by: S.N Jha
Saurath This village is situated in the Mithila region of Bihar. Metahistory makes it unique. Originally named Saurastra, literally a cultural and intellectual centre of sau-rastra, nations associated with Janaka, the ancient king of Mithila, whose name finds mention in the Ramayana epic. Tradition has it that the svayambara (self-chosen form of marriage) of Janaka’s daughter, Sita, took place in this village. The presiding God of this village is Somanath. There is an interesting parallel between the Somnath of village Saurath (Saurastra) in Mithila and the Somnath of the Saurastra region of Gujarat. The village people have an extraordinary ability to combine myth and history. As historical sources reveal, in AD 1025, Mohammed Ghazni attacked the famous temple of Somnath located on the western coast in the Saurastra region. He looted the fabulous wealth of the temple and destroyed it completely. From the imagined sources, it is known that Lord Somnath appeared in the dream of the two Maithil Brahman brothers, Bhagirathdutta Sharma and Gangadutta Sharma, and asked them to take His lingam away. The two brothers, following God’s instruction, went to Saurastra, brought the lingam to Saurath and kept Him in hiding for a long time. Later the lingam was duly enshrined. In the 18th century a Maithil king constructed here the temple of Somnath. This village has another peculiarity. Almost every year, during suddha or auspicious days for the settling of marriages, thousands of Maithil Brahmans gather here. Such periodic meetings are called sabha, marriage mart. It is obligatory for every person desirous of marriage to get a certificate called asvajajanapatra (non-relationship) from a genealogist, stating that there is no “blood relationship” (as per the prescribed rules of prohibited degrees) between the two contracting parties. The institution of panjikar, genealogist, was led for the first time by Maharaja Harsimhadeva (AD 1296-1323) of the Karnat dynasty. In course of time genealogical records called utedhpothi assumed gigantic proportions, and it was felt necessary to make qualified genealogists available to people at certain appointed places throughout Mithila to facilitate marriages. Earlier, such marriage marts were held in 14 villages, viz. Saurath, Khamgadi, Partapur, Sheohar, Govindpur, Fattepur, Sajhaul, Sukhasaina, Akhrarhi, Hemanagar, Balua, Barauli, Samaul, and Sahsaula in North Bihar. In and about these villages lived eminent Sanskrit pandits who were authorities on matters relating to genealogy. It was natural, therefore, that Saurath was selected as the best place for Maithil Brahmans to assemble and consult genealogists. While Saurath maintains the tradition, all other villages have discontinued holding the marriage mart. Maintaining of genealogies is invaluable for distinguished Maithil Brahman families, because the genealogical records show the names of their ancestors and of the villages where they resided. The earliest known ancestor of each family, biji-purus, of that line and the village where he resided was known as moola. Each moola thus came to represent one stock. In Saurath alone, according to the village genealogist Harekrishna Jha, there are Brahmans of 7 gotras and 42 moolas. In course of time the occupation of genealogist became hereditary. A separate language was evolved for recording genealogies, which each successive genealogist had to master. Every family has thus its genealogy preserved in one of the houses of genealogists, beginning at least from the 12th century. The genealogies of each family contain not only the names of persons generation-wise, as one finds in the genealogies of other societies, but also the names of villages where they resided and their social and intellectual attributes. If someone in the 16th century, for instance, was a mahamahopadhya, an honorific title denoting Sanskrit scholarship, this was recorded along with his name. Not only that, the field of his scholarship and the names of the books he wrote were also mentioned in the genealogical record of his moola. Saurath possesses invaluable archives of genealogical records. From these records one can establish the continuity of Sanskrit learning in Maithil villages. The genealogy of Pandit Ghanshyam Mishra, for instance, shows that he had four sons, all very bright scholars, but the youngest one, Bhanupati, who used to compose poems and songs with the great poet Vidyapati, became a saint-scholar. One of the cousins of this family was Dhare Jha, who lived in another village but finally settled in Saurath and became a famous scholar of Tantra. Ghanshaym’s great-grandson Giradhari continued the family tradition and became a scholar of eminence. He had four sons, but his youngest son mahamahopadhya Rajnath Mishra Rajje was exceptionally brilliant. He was a scholar of many disciplines, Veda, Vedanga, Nyaya, Jyotish, Tantra, and Vyakarana, and had a large number of disciples many of whom received the highest title of mahamahopadhya. He went to Kashi six months before his death and stayed there till he breathed his last in 1933. He had a very bright son named Pandit Subhadra Mishra. From this illustrious family, Pandit Shiva Kumar Mishra represents today the great sanskritic tradition. He is versatile in many fields such as Jyotish, Tantra, and agriculture. He was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi in his early childhood, and he continues to spread the message of Gandhi. The ancestral family of the great poet Vidyapati Thakur, the “Kalidas” of Mithila, lives in this village, with its glory and creativity. Purushottam Thakur, a descendant of the Vidyapati family, is famous for his austerity and religious-mindedness. He has not taken salt or fried food now for almost 55 years; he eats only fruits, roots and shoots and does not move away from his hut and temple. There are several pandits in this village who perform sanskritic rituals. Undoubtedly, the Sanskrit tradition has lost its vigour, and scholars of modern subjects have become important. But people’s pride in Sanskrit learning remains. There is a Sanskrit High School in the village, which is a reminder of the excellence of the Sanskrit tradition. There are also a Middle School imparting modern education, a Homeopathic Hospital, a Folk Museum, and two Libraries. The educational status of the 42 per cent literates of the village shows that modern education holds them in greedy grip, but it does not match the great tradition of Sanskrit scholarship. Of the 400 graduates, 32.5 per cent remain unemployed. In the people’s world view KNOWLEDGE still occupies the central position but MAN is placed on the periphery of TRADITION.