GUWAHATI: A 53-year-old abbot of a monastery in Assam is in the eye of a religious storm for breaking a 360-year-old tradition by tying the nuptial knot.
Haridev Goswami, the ‘satradhikar’ (abbot) of Garamur Satra (monastery) on the river island Majuli, married Mrinalini aka Anju last week. The bride, who is from Janji in the state’s Sivasagar district, is a Lord Shiva devotee. Mrinalini, who has a master’s degree in political science from Dibrugarh University, had once decided to remain single all her life.
“I used to spend most of my time at the Shiva temple in our house,” said Mrinalini, who became a devotee during her college days. Mrinalini’s family says they heard from the media that Goswami had made up his mind to get married, but they had no idea that he would seek Mrinalini’s hand. “One day we got a phone call that he was coming to ask for our sister’s hand,” says her elder brother Pramod Khataniar. After the wedding, the couple moved to Garamur Saru Satra, their new home. They were greeted by scores of devotees and locals when a motorboat took them to Majuli.
Goswami, who hails from Namdang in Sivasagar district, was anointed to be celibate 32 years ago, three years after he joined the satra. Traditionally, the satradhikar is selected from among those who join the satras as children.
The satras propagate religion and are centres of traditional performing and fine arts. Saint-reformer Srimanta Sankaradeva viewed them as the centres of socio-economic and cultural activities. Some satras, including the Garamur Satra, do not ratify the marriage of satradhikars. So when Goswami made his intentions known to the satra inmates, its managing committee and the locals at a meeting in March, some were anguished that he was hurting the tradition and sanctity of a centuries-old institution.
“I gave up my claim to everything a satra owns or controls. I am an ordinary devotee now and no longer bound by the vow of celibacy,” Goswami had said.
The Garamur Satra Managing Committee said the marriage was unacceptable given the history of the satra. “He has broken tradition. Satradhikars cannot marry. It’s a tradition that exists since 1656,” said Jayanta Borah, president of the committee.
“He is the 14th satradhikar of the Garamur Satra. None before him had tied the nuptial knot. So, we made it clear to him that he cannot continue in the post if marries. Now that he has got married, he ceases to have any place at the Garamur Satra or in any of its 12 branches,” says Borah.
But the Garamur Saru Satra—where Goswami and his wife are lodged temporarily—is a branch of the Garamur Satra. It seems to have no objections to the monk’s marriage. But its decision has only angered the parent body.
“It is very unfortunate that they sheltered the couple without consulting us. We have decided not to keep any ties with them during social and religious functions,” Borah said.
The Assam Satra Mahasabha (ASM), which is an umbrella body of around 800 satras in the state, is also miffed. “He has gone against tradition. But the only saving grace is that he has relinquished the satradhikar’s post and left the satra,” ASM president Lila Mahanta said. “All satras do not practice celibacy. Those practicing it should ideally uphold it,” he insisted.
But Pitambardeva Goswami, the satradhikar of the Auniati Satrain Majuli, defended the abbot’s decision. “If he had married while still in office, it would have been a different case. Since he has already resigned as the satradhikar, we shouldn’t make this an issue,” Goswami said.
One Prabin Goswami, who appeared in his class X examination this year, has been chosen as the new satradhikar of the Garamur Satra. He will take over on May 31.