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Dharma, literally, “shelter-in-one religion.” Shankardeva was amazingly multi-talent-


ed: author, composer and Sanskrit scholar, painter, sculptor, dancer, musician and even weaver. Barduwa Satra was where he lived, wrote his books and taught. Preserved here and worshiped by devotees is a stone said to bear his footprints. Inside Burduwa Satra’s huge temple, a


large group of priests were chanting the names of Krishna accompanied by musi- cal instruments and devotees all dressed in white clapping their hands. At the entrance we encountered the seven-tiered throne with the ­ö 3 P &


placed on top as


the object of worship. In Ekasarna Dharma, Krishna alone is worshiped, without a con- sort, a priest explained. His picture is dis- played, but there are no Krishna statues, or murtis, for worship. The prayer hall has an ancient look, with its nine majestic doors, or- nate statues of Garuda, tall multi-stemmed brass lamps and huge antique drums. Ad- jacent to the prayer hall is the Manikut, a sanctum where the temple’s valuables are kept, including Shankardeva’s personal copy of the (


ó ­ö 3 P & and other


scriptures. A small temple outside holds a murti of Krishna, the only one in the entire compound, for devotees who wish to wor- ship Him as having form. We met Jugesh Atoi, who became chief


priest here in 1965 at the age of 25. He said priest candidates come from all jatis, but to be a priest one must receive initiation. The Ekasarna Dharma is an egalitarian tradition,


Shankardeva’s Birthplace…


with all jatis regarded equally. In Assam, there are 800 satras in this tradition, some led by householders, others by brahmacharis. Inder Mohan Saikia, a temple devotee and


ex-army man, said they have four levels of initiation. According to one’s level, certain duties and responsibilities are taken on in the temple. With the second level, one must follow a vegetarian diet. Saikia told us of the eventful life of Shankardeva, who lived to 120. His main message was: “God is one; peo- ple worship different manifestations of the same one God.” Saikia concluded with this observation on Assam, “If you go 20 km from ô ôL U S ^ õ


ô 5 5ô 3 5ôõL


and if you go another 20, the dress has also. This is how Assam is.”


Tirupati Temple One major religious site in Assam’s capi- tal isn’t Assamese at all, but a transplant from South India: the Purva Tirupati Sri Bala Ji Temple. A small clone of the famed temple of Andhra Pradesh, it was inspired by the Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and opened in 1998. The temple is on 20 acres of land, with the area imme- diately around the temple artistically land- scaped and well maintained. The Kanchi Shankaracharya directed the


founders to include a temple to Goddess Durga, in respect to Ma Kamakhya. The temple and its many shrines were designed by Sri Ganapati Sthapati in typical South In- dian style and painted a brilliant white. The facilities include a large yagashala and a fully


equipped auditorium. After passing through the 70-foot-tall ra-


jagopuram entrance tower, we entered the main sanctum with its imposing 8-1/2-foot- tall statue of Lord Vishnu as Balaji, along with His consort, Mahalakshmi, and other Deities. The original Tirupati temple is fa- mous for its laddu prasadam—a sweet made _


L õ 3 5 5 Rô õôR


ter being offered to the Lord. Tirupati cooks were sent here to train the staff to prepare laddus to the same standard. Pujas are performed in South Indian style, though here they follow the &


ö


3 , while Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh follows the +


ö 1 3 , according


to Amodan Sharma, 47, one of the two chief priests. He said that most of the temple’s ten priests were trained at Kanchi Peetham. He notes that many Balaji devotees from Kolkata come here, to avoid the massive crowds at Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. He explains that, õô


ô _ ô ô * õôR L V 3


Assamese worshiped God as formless, but still they like to have darshan of Balaji.”


Assam’s great saint: X õ Pï 3ö E öï (


ö ( ­ (ö & P ) öï <H99 ó óïP J õ ( ­ Z öï1ï @H99 P )ö :=9


J õ ï


Q 1ï


öï ï ö


ïó óïP ï ï Q ö Z


ï S Q óï P 3 " ó + 1ö ­ ó Q ( öï


ö ï ó õö 1ö


ïZ :A ö[ ïï1


1 ïPï S 1 3 ï ó S


ôô3 -


24 hinduism today april/may/june, 2017


all photos: thomas l kelly


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