Muslim custodians look after Srimanta Sankardev’s birthplace for over a century now

Nurul Islam Laskar

A 15-day Sattriya dance and music summer workshop for children was being inaugurated at Sri Sri Alipukhuri Patekibori Thaan (Satra) at Moirabari in Morigaon District of Assam on Saturday, the 16th of July 2016. The workshop was being organised by Swayam, an NGO headquartered in Jorhat and supported by the Patekibori Satra and Rotary Club of Dispur Guwahati. A large number of Muslim intellectuals and villagers from adjoining areas were expected to be present at the function.

Dr Navanil Barua of GNRC Hospitals and Ashiq Zaman, a covenanted central government official from Assam and now posted in Mumbai, had informed us about this programme and exhorted us to be present there on the occasion as this would harbinger a new beginning in the rebuilding of trust and brotherhood between the different religious groups of Assam.

The objective was pious and hence we plunged into the programme. Roughly a three hour drive, first leg from Guwahati to Nellie on NH 37 and then the second leg through tertiary roads from Telahi to Moirabari via Morigaon brought us to the tranquil satra at Patekibori by noon on this pleasant Saturday.

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Satyendra Nath Mahanta, President of Swayam, who had already commenced anchoring of the inaugural function, was heard saying, “Contrary to the notion that Muslim farmers were encroaching upon Satra lands in the State, here in Alipukhuri, we have many instances where Muslim farmers in our neighbourhood have come forward and voluntarily donated land for the use of the Satra.” Mahanta urged the gathering to strive hard to maintain the age old spirit of peace and amity among the communities in Assam at any cost. Incidentally, Alipukhuri is the birthplace of Srimanta Sankardev, the great reformer saint of Assam.

Siva Prasad Bora, who has been associated with the management of the Sattra for over 25 years, mentioned about Mansur Ali, a Muslim, whose family is the caretaker of the Satra for more than a century now. In an interaction with the audience, Ali said, “Devotees come to the Sattra and spend one to two hours here. We spend all 24 hours of the day at the Sattra, keeping it clean, and protected from all vagaries of nature.” It may be mentioned here that, in the early eighties when the law and order in Assam was bad, there was a threat on the life of Dhaneswar Mahanta, the then Satridhikar of the Thaan. It was Ali’s father, Haji Sikandar Ali and elder brother, Nurul Hoque who disguised the Satradhikar as a Muslim woman donning a burqa and evacuated him from Alipukhuri to a safer place. For their act of bravery, both were honoured by Chief Justice A Raghuvir at a public function held at the Rabindra Bhawan in Guwahati in the subsequent period.

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Ali’s wife Salimun Nessa disclosed that her mother in law had to face social ostracism for a while for lending her burqa to be used by an “infidel.” Anyway, those days are over now and the whole community lives in peace and as one family today. As the young boys and girls started their orientation lessons in Sattriya dance and drum beating, the azaan from the nearby maszid was renting the air and we did not see any batting of eyelids anywhere in the audience, a clear indication of the respect the people have here for the rituals of the other community.

Ikbal Rabbani, a local youngster, spoke and said his people are ready to do whatever is asked of them for the development of the Satra. Badrul Islam, another youngster, was listening to the deliberations standing outside the boundary wall. We learnt, he was feeling uneasy to come in and sit with all of us “as he was wearing a lungi!”

A ten member team of the ‘Muslim Youth Forum Against Communalism, Terrorism, & Sedition’ (MY-FACTS) from Guwahati led by Aman Wadud and Rezwan Hussain also attended the function. Doctor members Alim Ullah Tanwar, Zakariah Abdullah, Abu Altaf, and Shabnam Choudhury conducted a medical check-up and consultation camp at the Sattra Complex.

Jyoti Rekha Keot, Assistant Professor, Samaguri College, who is engaged in research in the works of Srimanta Sankardev stated that it is only by adhering to the teaching of the great saint that we can lead Assam to the path of peace and progress.