Mathura Das Burha Ata
A view of Barpeta Satra

Mathura Das Burha Ata: The Man And His Contribution

December 20, 2021

As in India and so in Assam, many good things happened throughout the ages that humanity cannot but appreciate. Of all the good things that happened in the north-eastern part of India was the birth and emergence of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankaradeva (1449 – 1569 AD)- an event considered to have immense significance.

Srimanta Sankardeva was a prolific writer who mastered three languages- Assamese, Sanskrit and Brajavali. He founded the Eka Sarana Hari Nama Dharma sects. His ardent disciple Madhabadeva (1492-1596) was succeeded, who also possessed considerable literary talents. Before his final departure from this world, Sankaradeva nominated four Acharyas, his disciples, into his religious fold. Among them, Madhabadeva was the most talented and scholarly. Similarly, Madhabadeva 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 named Khana Khokara, somewhere in the eastern part of Ahom Kingdom. He was born to the nuptial bliss of Birshad (father) and Dhairya (mother), and he was named Gopal Tanti at birth. During his early childhood, a severe famine swept across the eastern part of the Ahom Kingdom. Severely affected by the famine, Gopal's family migrated from his birthplace to the west. After temporary stays in several places in the Ahom kingdom, the family decided to settle down at the Tatikuchi village of Barpeta.

There was only a single primary school (called tol in Assamese) at Ischakuchi to the South of Tatikuchi. Gopal received his education from this school under Sanatan Kayath – the only teacher of that school. After successfully finishing his formal education under Sanatan Kayath, he took weaving as his profession. Being a weaver, Gopal Tanti was also engaged in weaving Sankardeva's famous Vrindavani Vastra. He was one of the twelve Morals or chiefs of weavers who were placed under Srimanta Sankardeva's command. Before he was appointed as a weaver by Srimanta Sankaradeva, Gopal Tanti accepted Vaishnavism according to the Caitanya School of Bengal and used to Sing Pacali songs in the company of eighteen co-followers. Narayan Das Thakur later brought Gopal Tanti and his whole eighteen company to Madhabdeva at Sundaridiya. They became converts, and formed an Oja-Pali chorus and often visited Sundaridiya to perform Kirtanas. 

Finally, Gopal was initiated by Madhabadeva into the religious fold as preached by Srimanta Sankardeva, and he gave Gopal Tanti a new name- Mathura Das. He became popular, and Mathura Das' name spread far and wide and slowly. He had a galaxy of followers (Bhakts). Though the weaver sect was regarded as low-caste in a few states, including West Bengal and Bihar, in Assam, however, their position was high in society. They were honoured as high caste artists. Hence, Mathura Das' position among Sankardeva's followers was as high as other higher sects. 

Mathura Das married present-day Sarupeta's Bonghi Thakur's daughter Sumati. The couple was blessed with a son named Bolai. Mathura Das was a skilled weaver and was considered one of the industry's doyens by the weaving community. The hundred and twenty weavers of Tatikuchi regarded him as their captain and the chief weaver. The weaving industry developed under the able leadership of Mathura Das.

While staying with Madhabadeva at Sundaridiya Satra, a few evil-minded people disturbed him, which angered Mathura Das immensely. To avoid future altercations and seek the peace of mind, Das shifted Madhabadeva and his disciples and followers to Titikuchi and built a new Satra known as Barpeta Satra. After spending a few years at Barpeta Satra, Madhabdeva left for Koch Behar. At the time of his departure from Barpeta Satra, Madhabadeva handed over the charges of the Satra to Mathura Das. 

Soon after Madhabdeva's departure, the Barpeta Satra was destroyed in a fire. With his eighteen followers, Mathura Das travelled to Koch Behar and informed Madhabdeva about the destruction caused. Madhabdeva presented Mathura Das with a wrapper, two coins, and a flower garland and recognised Mathura Das as acharya and asked him to return to Barpeta. He also motivated them to rebuild the destroyed satra. Moreover, Mathura Das became the chief or satradhikar of Barpeta Satra. 

Mathura Das was one of the most celebrated disciples of Madhabadeva. His unconditional devotion to Madhabadeva is beyond any comparison. Mathura Das gave a dynamic and pragmatic shape to Barpeta Satra by introducing some new ideas. It began to be referred to as the second Vaikuntha (heaven). He introduced Hati Pratha, the system of Batori Sudha Pratha, established a bank in each Hati (colony), a storehouse, set up Rongial Griha, constructed guest houses within the satra campus for the devotees, introduced Akshaya Bhandar. He also systemised the fourteen Naam Prasanga to be strictly followed in Barpeta Satra.

After Madhabdeva's death, Das and his Barpeta Satra were looked upon with great veneration by the Vaisnavas, who recognised the leadership of Madhabadeva. 

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. Towards the fag end of his life, Mathura Das rendered Satra's charges to the general body of his followers and requested them to appoint the next head of the satra. In conjunction with four elderly associates of Das, the followers nominated Gopal Mistra, the great-grandson of Ramram Guru, as the next chief. Mathura Das Burha Ata left this world in 1641 AD at 151 years.

ALSO READ | Chandika Temple: Where Legends Reside

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