Acharya Ilaram Das

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Acharyya Ilaram Das (1929–2003) (Assamese: ইলাৰাম দাস) was a devout votary of Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankaradeva and founder of Ek Saran Bhagawati Samaj. He was an orator par excellence. He may be called a littérateur with a unique quality of writing not only by pen but by his God gifted voice.

Early life[edit]

Ilaram was born the eldest of five surviving children in a small village called Jaluguti of undivided Nagaon District(now Morigaon District)in the state of Assam of parents Kaliram Das and Khopadoi Das on 23 December 1929. Ilaram had the opportunity to nurture his childhood by elixir of Vaishnava Ideology of harmonious living.

Das was the first student of Jaluguti area to pass the Matriculation Examination in 1945.In 1947,he passed I.A Examination from Nagaon College.While still pursuing his graduate studies, Shri Das witnessed a few extremely shocking incidents,which played a catalysing role in his decision to foray into the field of socio religious reform.One such particularly shocking incident was perpetrated in 1947 during Phalgutshav or Holi celebrations. It was in Batadrawa, the holy seat of Srimanta Sankardeva’s immanence where people of all strata and belonging to all castes and creeds did not really enjoy the rights of entry. In the huge gathering for the Phalgotshav, three persons belonging to the scheduled caste Kaivartta community from the villages of Raidongia and Kobaikata of Nagaon district went up to pray in front of the guru asana. A few persons from the upper classes, on learning that they were Kaivarttas kept them kneeling down and humiliated them by shoving cow dung in their mouth. This left an indelible mark on the college going Ilaram, who had gone there to enjoy the Dol festival. Did not all men belong to the same god? The scriptures claim that the soul resided in all life forms without discrimination. Does the faith preached by Mahapurush Sankardev accommodate such segregations? Such questions left Ilaram deeply worried. It was then that a few members of his community approached their vanguard student Ilaram and told him that his college education had no value, as he would face the same fate as they if he dared go up to the guru asana to pray. Immediately after this Ilaram Das organised a mammoth rally of over one thousand members of his community and other backward classes to protest against such attempts to tain the religious ideals of guru Sankara, Consequently, a large religious meet was held under the presidency of Sahitya Ratna Harinarayan Duttabaruah and in the presence of a few satradhikars.Harinarayan Duttabaruah took the initiative in passing a resolution to open the doors of the Batadrawa thaan(seat) for all to pray. The satradhikars regretted the incident and apologised to the people. After completing his studies Ilaram Das took up the post of teacher in the Jaluguti High School. He was successful as a teacher and was popular among his students. He, however, did not adjure social reforms and politics. The political ideals of Mahatma Gandhi fascinated him and led him to take an active part in the struggle for independence even as a student. As he was an influential, conscious and educated young man from a scheduled caste community he easily came close to such stalwarts as Tyagbeer Hem Baruah, Deva kanta Baruah, Mahendra Mohan Choudhury and others of the then most influential party, the Indian National Congress. Despite invitations from them to contest in the elections for the Legislative Assembly, Sri Das adhered to the ideals of Srimanta Sankardeva and dedicated himself to spreading his ideals and gave up active politics.

Religious Life[edit]

Ilaram Das was formally initiated into the Ek Saran Naam Dharma by Nandiram Ata, who was a redoubtable preacher of the Paalnam Samaj in the Nagaon district. He then immersed himself in the relentless pursuit of the intricacies of the religious philosophy of Mahapurush Sankardeva for fourteen years. His command over the tenets and concepts of Sankardeva's philosophy and his easy elucidation and fascinating oratory,and remarkable organizational skills were primarily instrumental in giving an extra cosmopolitan dimension to the Samaj and in making it significantly broad based. Thousands of people were attracted to this Paalnam Samaj by his wonderful rendering of *borgeets, *ghosha and *lesaries and his profoundly conceptual yet accessible discourses and orations. Ilaram Das took up the responsibility of General Secretaryship of some fourteen primary units of the Nagaon District Paalnam Samaj and joined Assam Srimanta Sankardeva Sangha in 1950. It is for the Assam Srimanta Sankardeva Sangha that he toured the length and breadth of Assam and embraced thousands of members to its fold with his erudite and lucid discourses. He became the State Organiser, member of the Sharan (initiation) Committee, and was the Sangha’s Upa-Padadhikar for two consecutive two-year terms from 1968. Ilaram Das played a leading role in the establishment of the Adhyatmic Sadhanmarg, or the path of spiritual attainment. He was close to and had earned the confidence of the founder of the Nagaon Sankar Mission, Lokasevak Haladhar Bhuyan and Ramakanta Muktiar Ata. Ilaram Das established “Ek Saran Bhagawati Samaj, Assam” another social and cultural religious organisation on December 7, 1973. Celestial songs composed by Srimanta Sankardeva.

Ek Saran Bhagawati Samaj[edit]

While Das was serving Assam Srimanta Sankardeva Sangha as a core Member, difference of interpretation with regard to Dhula Mala and Palnam cropped up between him and the Sangha members. With tears he had to part with the Assam Srimanta Sankardeva Sangha and embarked on the field to sail across the turbulent river with Ek Saran Nam Dharma under the grab of Ek Saran Bhagawati Samaj, Assam. Here he was famously known as Baap-Iswar amongst his disciples.

Sankardeva had formed a wholesome community of believers by embracing into his fold-Nagas, Karbis, Muslims, Bhots, Kaibartas, and all other communities. This society disintegrated as time passed but Ilaram Das had devoted his life to enrich and continue this comprehensive community based on liberal ideas of tolerance, mutual respect, and harmony. The Ek-Saran Bhagwati Samaj, he founded, is a meeting ground of Kochas, Kaivartas, Keots, Kacharis, Bodos, Rabhas, Lalungs, Brahmins, Misings, Heeras, Banias, Tea garden workers, Ahoms, Chutias, Kaisthas, Tiwas and other communities. The District and state Palnaams, conferences and Astra Prahar Palnaam Mohatsov of the Ek Saran Bhagawati Samaj bear testimony to this.

Through him those who are initiated to the Mahapurishia faith and seek shelter they automatically lose the different barriers of caste, creed or community.

As a founder of Ek Saran Bhagawati Samaj, Acharyya Ilaram Das has delivered, in the course of his preaching throughout Assam, some 5 (five) thousand speeches which were lucid yet addressed theoretical and conceptual concerns. In these meetings and through them he met many social workers, intellectuals, artists and political leaders; some significant names are listed below:

Mahamanab Mahatma Gandhi, Deba Kanta Barua, Tyagbeer Hem Barua, Ex-Chief Minister Mahendra Mohan Choudhury, Sarat Chandra Sinha, Hiteshwar Saikia, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, Loksevak Haladhar Bhuyan, Dr. Maheswar Neog, Nava Kanta Barua, Dr. Ram Charan Thakuria, Sarvodoya leaders Acharyya Vinobha Bhave, Amal Prabha Das, Ex-Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi,Bipin Pal Das, Bijay Ch. Bhagawati, Ex-president of India Fakharuddin Ali Ahmed, Swami Bijoyanada Maharaj of Bharat Sevashram Sangha, Dr. Indira Miri, Dr. Pramod Bhattacharjee, Paragdhar Chaliha, Miss Queensee Haily (London), Kalaguru Bishnu Rabha, Kishori Mohan Pathak, etc.

He had also come in close contact with many other distinguished persons over and above the names mentioned above.

Social Reform[edit]

Acharyya Ilaram Das, both through the Srimanta Sankardev Sangha and the Ek Saran Bhagawati Samaj had made immense contributions towards social reform, especially amongst the scheduled caste and other backward classes and made them aware of their rights and responsibilities. The meets and discourses he organised brought about consciousness of harmony among them.

Moves against intoxicants and Aberrant: Alcohol, grass gambling and such social aberrant had taken deep roots in the backward classes. His endeavor was to wean them away from these evils and to accept them back into the fold of the Mahapurushia path. He had helped the government’s moves for prohibition in diverse effective ways.

Eradication of Untouchability[edit]

He was successful in helping the common masses imbibe the spirit of Sankardeva’s ideal of harmony and amity through religious meetings, namkirtan, cultural functions, inter-caste marriages, community feasts etc. These helped them eradicate evils like untouchability and bring about communal harmony and unity. Inter-caste marriage in the Ek Saran Bhagawati Samaj, marriage between different classes, Castes and ethnic communities have become a routine affair. These not only helped bring about harmony and unity among the people but also translated Gandhiji’s dreams of a free and equal society into a reality.

Reforms among ethnic groups & Tea estate workers[edit]

During 1979–80 Acharyya Ilaram Das, through various meetings and discussions, managed to bring the various ethnic groups, especially the Bodos and the Rabhas back into the fold of the Society and culture established by Sankardeva, by weaning them away from the grasp of alien ways and faiths, especially in Habigaon, Borigaon Doamakha, Batabari, Ambagaon and adjoining areas. The Acharyya was also physically assaulted and his life was in serious danger. He not only brought the Mising community in Rawanmukh and Galsepa in Lakhimpur district, Kalabari in Biswanath, Malapindha and Kathalguri in Majuli, Mahuramukh, Bankowal and other places in Golaghat district, back into the ways of Sankardeva but had also taken the initiative to build Naamghars there to give them the right place and ambience to congregate. This was also done among the tea-estate workers community in Kandali, Sagunbahi, Sapanala, Gariabari, Kathiatoli in Nagaon district, Rajabari, Letekujan, Borsapori in Golaghat district, Hatigarh in Mangaldoi district, Dafalating, Bajalkata, Sapekhati, in Jorhat district, and Nelly Gopalkrishna tea estate in Morigaon district. Through his relentless endeavors the people of the above categories learnt the way of living in Aryan style. Reform activities in Mikir hills (Karbi Anglong) In 1955 he resigned from teacher at Jaluguti High School to join in a community Welfare Center at Auguri (Ram Bangla), which was established under the auspices of Srimanta Sankar Mission. He became superintendent of the center and also Head Master of an English Middle School. To impart value based education and to develop health consciousness among the tribal people of the hill district the following institutions were established:

   A unit of Hospital
   One M.E. School
   One Primary School
   One Handloom Center
   One Hospital for the leprosy patients

He had successfully served the backward tribal people for a period of 3 years. He reached out to the major section of the tribal society to motivate them to gear-up education, Health service and livelihood etc. for their young generation and he succeeded in this mission to a great extent. He could not resist the clarion call given by Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankar to serve the society wholeheartedly and to lead the poorest of the poor and the downtrodden to a higher position in the society. Finally, he had chosen the path of a lifetime social reformer cultural activist and an organizer of Srimanta Sankardev Sangha, a social, cultural & religious organisation of Assam.

Women’s education[edit]

The Acharyya was a staunch believer in the emancipation of women and true to the culture of the area looked up to the mother. It was, his way of spiritually empowering our women folk, especially those of the backward classes. He knew the imperatives of women’s education and the significant role emancipated women could play in society. It was through his persistent efforts that the Jaluguti Girls Academy High School was established at his birthplace in Jaluguti. He had throughout been helping poor students with books, uniforms, tuition fees and accessories. He had also established the Sati Radhika Santi Matri Sewa Samaj, a women’s organisation to impart spiritual education as supplement to modern education so that the women folk would prepare themselves for the correct motherhood.

Moves for national unity and communal harmony[edit]

He had always endeavored to instill in people the imperatives of self-sacrifice in order to fight the divisive forces. This, he believed, was most effective at preserving national unity and communal harmony. In 1983 the district of Morigaon was severely affected by communal violence. The incidents at Nelly are a case in point. His birthplace at Jaluguti is a traditional seat of communal harmony where Hindus and Muslims had always been living in harmony, but even this place was threatened by communal discord, and was primarily through his efforts that harmony was maintained. Even during the language movement of 1972, he had helped maintain peace in this region through peace committees, which he established and ran. He was the president of all peace committees mentioned above.

Promotion of weaving[edit]

While spreading the message of Sankardeva in the areas bordering the district Dhubri, area like Jinkata, Chhatrasal, Simlabari, he had noticed the women taking to poor clothing. Acharyya Das was quick to notice it and arranged looms for the weavers of the region and had them trained through experts with the help of the Khadi and Gramudyog Board. Even now he is looked up to in the Jinkata and Chhatrasal areas.

Social forestry[edit]

Acharyya Ilaram Das has, from early in life, been planting trees at all socio-cultural rituals (births, weddings, palnaam Meets, District Conferences) armed with the belief that a tree was equal to ten sons (ek brikasa dasa putra sama). He with his unique creation the Sadou Assam Tarun Vidyarthy Samaj had been translating these ideas into reality in wider perspective. He catalogues and analyzes his salient ideas on tree plantation in the 13th ‘Objective’ of his book ‘Aims and Objectives’ written for youth. He has been helping the state in its Social forestry programm.

Participation in the Sarvodaya Movement[edit]

Ilaram Das was associated with Binova Bhave's Sarvodaya movement. He helped distinguished workers, Amol Probha Das & Shankuntala Choudhury sent to spread the Bhoodan and Gramdan Projects. There were also exchanges on the ideas of Sankardeva with the well-known workers. Shrimati Shankuntala Choudhury had written about these in the mouthpiece of the Bhoodan movement ‘Maitree’.

Welfare of Jaluguti[edit]

The Jaluguti Area: His contributions towards the economic and social development of the Jaluguti region is immense. He had offered his services as the president of the governing body of the Jaluguti High School he had studied in. He was instrumental in making it a higher secondary school and in making it a centre for the Matriculation examination. He was responsible for the establishment of the Jaluguti State Dispensary, and the Jaluguti Girls High School and he had also served as the founder president of the Jaluguti Anchalic College. It was at his initiative that the mass electric irrigation project began in the area when Sarat Chandra Sinha was the Chief Minister of the state.

Equality of all religions[edit]

Mahapurush Sankardeva had called the people never to think ill of other faiths (Anora dharmaka nihingsiba kadasit). Following this ideal he participated with zeal in the religious occasions of other communities and had often been the appointed speaker at Fateha Dwaz Daham and other celebrations and called for religious tolerance and co-operation. Over and above these, in the state-wide conference of the Ek Saran Bhagawati Samaj, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, and Gauriya Panthi religious teachers and preachers were invited. This adequately illustrates his liberal religious views.

Cultural resurgence[edit]

Acharyya Das, at his own initiative, established a moving cultural troupe with a view to spreading and diffusing the songs, borgeets, dances, and plays of Sankardeva. This troupe not only performed in different places of Assam but helped train the people in the culture. He himself used to play role in the Ankia Naats. These became popular and the people came to the ways of the guru through participation in community festivals. At his birthplace in Jaluguti, he edited the Rasa Naat in the Bhagawata pada Rhythm and started the Rasa festivities in true Mahapurushia style. This continues as an annual affair till now. He had also established various thaans and cultural centres as he toured the local participation. They also helped decentralize the activities. He had also established district-wide Sadhan or spiritual centres, along with cultural centres. In the main centres, he himself established the Simhasana, Bhagawata, and Namghar for cultural activities.

Principal Thaans and cultural centres[edit]

  • Astraprahar Palnaam Thaan, Jaluguti, Morigaon
  • Bebejia Palnaam thaan and Krstikendra, Nagaon
  • Rangbang Nandapur Palnaam thaan and Sankar-Madhab Krishti Sadhan Kendra, Kanaighat,Numaligarh,Golaghat.
  • Jinkata Nasatra, Dhubri.
  • Dangaigaon Nasatra, Bongaigaon.
  • Bijini Satra, Bongaigaon
  • Naamdharma Prasar and Krishti Charcha Kendra, Udalguri, District Darrang.
  • Na-nadi Bhakatgaon Palnaam thaan and Krishti Kendra District Dhemaji.
  • Palnaam thaan, Purani Pukhuri Par (Athaisagar), (under construction) District Sibsagar.
  • Majuli district palnaam thaan and Krishti Charcha Kendra, Silakala, Majuli.
  • Morigaon Central Naamghar and Krishti Kendra.
  • Naamghar and Krishti Bikash Kendra, Jagiroad, Morigaon (under construction)
  • District Namghar and Krishti Bikash Kendra, Guwahati.
  • Harmoti Milan Satra and Krishti Bikash Kendra, Harmoti, Lakhimpur.
  • Mangaldai District Palnaam thaan and Sankari Krishti Bikash Kendra Kathpori, Mangaldoi.
  • Adi Bhakatgaon Harimandir and Krishti Sadhan Kendra, Merapani Gamariguri, Golaghat.
  • Sankari Krishti Bikash Kendra and Palnaam thaan, North Guwahati.
  • Naamghar and Sankari Krishti Bikash Kendra, Uzan Bazar, Guwahati.
  • Anchalik Naamghar and Sankari Krishti Bikash Kendra, Kukurmara, Kamrup.
  • Krishna Naamghar Sankari Krishti Bikash Kendra, Kahilipara, Guwahati.

The above spiritual and cultural centres are turned to Acharya Ilaram Das’s inspiring ideas on spirituality and culture, which had a deep impact on the popular psyche.

The Role of Acharyya Ilaram Das in the development of Batadrawa Thaan[edit]

The present Batadrawa Thaan was once divided into the Borfal and Sorufal branch and the small Kirtan Ghar and the dormitory of the bhakats or devotees were in a sad state. He sought the help and intervention of Lokasevak Haladhar Bhuyan, the founder of the Nagaon Sankar Mission and the then Revenue Minister of Assam, Motiram Bora and their efforts resulted in the present united Batadrawa Thaan, which is large and well appointed. In the inaugural function, presided over by the former Chief Minister of Assam, Bishnu Ram Medhi, Acharyya Ilaram Das kept the audience enthralled with his erudite and lucid talk.

Literary contribution[edit]

Acharyya Ilaram Das is an orator and littérateur. He had delivered more than five thousand lectures all over Assam on the religious, spiritual, social, cultural, and literary views and ideals of Sankardeva. Moves are a foot to bring out an audio cassette of the available transcripts. His discourses on diverse topics automatically take on literary value. His book on Mahapurush Madhabdeva’s Naamghosa, entitled Naamghosa Rasamrit is the most well known. Enriched with elaborate conceptual analysis, this is not simply a commentary on the Naamghosa but presents the wholeness of the religious philosophy of Sankardeva lucidly and comprehensively. His erudite pieces continue to appear in various journals. He is the author of the following books:

Books[edit]

  • Naamghosa Rasamrit
  • Mahapurush Dharma and Karmakanda (with Monoranjan Das of Borpeta)
  • Yuva Samaj, Tarun Vidyarthi Samajar Lakshya Aru Uddeshya
  • Palnaam Tatwa.
  • Nitya Prasangar Arhi.
  • Mahapurushia Bibah Pronali
  • Yuba Samajar Parthana Pustika
  • "Biswajyoti" (A Monthly Journal of the Samaj)

Sodou Assam Tarun Vidyarthy Samaj[edit]

Based on the ideas of Sankardeva he founded the above "Society" on the ideas of Sankardeva to remove the increasing lack of direction in the youth of the state in 1979, for their moral and spiritual benefit. He knew that the growing lack of moral concern among the youth and their partiality to drugs and intoxicants must be checked before they harm the entire society. He therefore endeavoured to edify them. This, he believed, would keep them on from despair leading to unrest and extremism. Morally and spiritually armed, they would be on and lead others down the right path. Sankardeva always dreamt about undivided Great India (Bharat Varsha). Sankardeva always discouraged the emergence of separatism in various corners of today’s India. Keeping this in view, Acharyya Das inspired the youth to avoid taking up arms and law and order in their hand but to serve the Greater India for its integration, prosperity and secularism.

References[edit]

A major Part of this Article is Contributed by Bishnu Prasad Das, Eldest Son of Acharyya Ilaram Das.