Mathura Das Burha Ata : The Man And His Contribution

barpeta satra

As in India and so in Assam, many good things happened throughout the ages which entire humanity cannot but appreciate of all the good things that happened in this North Eastern part of India, the birth and emergence of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankaradeva (1449 – 1569 AD) is surely of immense significance. His appearance itself is like giving life to a body. He was a prolific writer in three languages i.e. Assamese, Sanskrit and Vrajawali, and it was he who founded the Eka Sarana Hari Nama Dharma sects. He was succeeded by his ardent disciple Madhabadeva (1492-1596), who also possessed considerable literary talents. Before his final departure from this world, Sri Sankaradeva nominated four Acharyas who were also his disciples, into his religious fold. Among them, Madhabadeva was the most talented and scholarly disciple. Similarly Madhabadeva also nominated twelve chief Acharyas and Mathura Das or Burha Ata of Barpeta was the most ardent, efficient and trustworthy nominee.

Mathura Das was born in 1490 AD in a village called Khana Khokara somewhere in the eastern part of Ahom Kingdom. The very name was not given by his parents rather he was named by them as Gopala. During his early age of life, there had been a great famine which swept across the eastern part of the Ahom Kingdom. Gopala, severely affected by the famine did migrated from his birth place towards west and after temporary stays in several places in the middle part of the kingdom, he used to set up at Tatikuchi village of Barpeta.

There had been a tola (Primary School) at a place namely Ischakuchi to the South of Tatikuchi. Gopala was admitted into that school lately to get proper education under Sanatan Kayath – the only teacher of that school. Gopal was well educated under Kayath’s guidance and he successfully finished his formal education. After finishing his education, Gopal took the profession of weaving, and the profession he undertook paved the way for him to come in contact with Srimanta Sankardeva. When the latter was having the great and famous  Vrindavani vastra woven at this village, Gopal was engaged into that weaving project. He was one of the twelve Morals or chiefs of weavers placed under Srimanta Sankardeva’s command. Before he was appointed as a weaver by Srimanta Sankaradeva, Gopala accepted the Vaishnava faith according to the Caitanya School of Bengal, and used to Sing Pacali song in the company of eighteen co-followers. It was Narayan Das Thakur who later brought Gopala and his whole eighteen company to Madhabdeva at Sundaridiya. They became converts, and formed an Oja-Pali chorus and very often visited Sundaridiya to perform Kirtanas.

Finally, Gopal was initiated by Sri Sri Madhabadeva into the religious fold as preached by Srimanta Sankardeva and was re-named as Mathura Das. Since then he became well known by that very name among the galaxy of Bhakatas. It is to be noted that the weaver sect was regarded as low-caste in West Bangal, Bihar and few other states of India, but to the people of Assam, their position in the society was high. They were honoured as high caste artists. So, the place of Mathura Das among the followers of Srimanta Sankardeva was as high as other high sects.

barpeta satra

Gopal alias Mathura Das married Sumati – the daughter of Bonghi Thakuria of the present day Sarupeta. As a result of their marriage life, the couple was blessed with a son namely Bolai, although, he left this world in the early days of life. As a weaver, Mathura Das was a skilful person. His art of weaving elevated him to a high degree of honour among the circle of weavers and his community. All the hundred and twenty weavers of Tatikuchi regarded him as their Captain and the Chief Weaver of them were whole heartedly accepted him as such. So, the industry of weaving developed day by day under the good relationship of Mathura Das.

During the stay of Madhabadeva at Sundaridiya Satra, a section of evil minded people used to disturb him from various angles. Mathura Das was unhappy with this unholy disturbance. So he wanted to shift to a better and peaceful place. At this unfavourable situation, Mathura Das somehow managed to shift Madhabadeva and his disciples and followers to Titikuchi and built there a new Satra known as Barpeta Satra – the great.

After spending few years at Barpeta Satra, Madhabdeva decided to leave Tatikuchi to Koch Behar. At the time of his departure from Barpeta Satra, Madhabadeva handed over the charge of the Satra over to Mathura Das. But as ill luck it would have, the Barpeta satra was destroyed by fire and thought of reconstructing the same. During this period, Mathura Das accompanied by his eighteen followers moved to Koch Behar to meet Madhabadeva. When Madhabadeva was informed about the sad news of the burning of Barpeta Satra, he inspired all of his followers to re-built the Satra. Madhabadeva presented him with a big cloth (wrapper), two coins (rupee) and a garland made up of flowers, thus Madhabadeva recognized Mathura Das as Acharya and asked him to come back to Barpeta. From that time Mathura Das used to enjoy the Headship or Satria of famous Barpeta Satra.

Mathura Das was one of the most celebrated disciples of Madhabadeva. His unconditional devotion to his guru Madhabadeva, can be compared with none. Mathura Das gave a dynamic and pragmatic shape to Barpeta Satra by introducing some new ideas to it which elevated the status of Barpeta Satra to second Vaikuntha. He introduced Hati Pratha, the system of Batori Sudha Pratha, established a bank in each Hati (Colony), a store-house, setting up of Rongial Griha, constructing of guest houses within the satra campus far away devotees, introducing Akshya Bhandar. He also systemized the fourteen number of Naam Prasanga to be strictly followed in Barpeta Satra. After the death of Madhabadeva, Mathura Das and his Barpeta Satra were looked upon with great veneration by the Vaisnavas, who recognized the leadership of Madhabadeva, and the chief among them often come there to have religious discourses with Mathura Das. King Birnarayana (1627-1632) of Koch Behar visited Barpeta Satra and was much impressed by the simplicity and the spirit of service of Mathura Das. He organized the Satra and its ceremonials and his system is still followed there. His only son Bolai died before him, and when his end approached, he rendered his charge of the Satra to the General Body of bhakatas (Samuha), requested them to appoint the head of the satra. The Bhakatas, in conjunction with four elderly associates of Mathura Das nominated by him raised Gopal Mistra, great grandson of Ramram Guru to the Adhikar’s Gaddi. Since then there has been many sharply contested elections for the Addhikarship. Mathura Das Burha Ata, left this world in 1641 AD at the age of 151 years.

(A prominent socio-cultural activist and philanthropist, Gauravjyoti Pathak is actively involved in promoting and preserving Sattriya art, culture and literature.)

Gauravjyoti Pathak(

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