A sight to behold
The tradition of offering Karbhar by the disciples sets apart the Barpeta Satra from other Vaishnava monasteries of Assam which celebrate Sankardeva’s death anniversary during this time of the year.
It is a custom kept alive for the last four hundred years. A custom exclusive to the Barpeta town in lower Assam.
Called Karbhar, this religious tradition, believed to have been started by Mahapurush Madhavdeva, the prime disciple of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva, on his first death anniversary, is an important annual event at the Barpeta Satra, a Vaishnava monastery that propagates the teachings of the 15th Century seer who brought Vaishnavism to Assam.
This is the time of the year that a visitor to Barpeta town can see the impressive festivities associated with Karbhar. On the second day of the fortnight-long full moon in the Assamese month of Bhadra, which is roughly August-September in the English calendar, a huge procession takes to the streets of the town in lower Assam where disciples of Sankardeva, donning the traditional white attire of dhoti and kurta along with a white turban, carry on their shoulders a variety of eatables to the Barpeta Satra. The procession is accompanied by musicians and singers who render the compositions of the seer.
Karbhar is an important component of the annual seven-day Kirtan Mahotsava that the Satra celebrates this time of the year. Divided into three parts, the Mahotsava marks the death anniversary of Sankardeva, so also of Madhavdeva and the Satra’s first head or Satradhikar, Mathura Das Burha Ata. The component, performed on the seventh day of the Mahotsava, is singular to the Barpeta Satra among so many Vaishnava monasteries that propagates the teachings of Sankardeva across the State.
The legend goes it was Madhavdeva who first started the tradition of observing Sankardeva’s death anniversary. It is said that a year after Sankardeva passed away, Madhabdeva went from Ganakkuchi Satra to Patbousi Than, and offered rice, oil, salt, milk, curd, beetle nut, firewood, etc. to the disciples. Madhabdeva started also offered ‘Karbhar’ from Sundaridiya satra. Thereafter began the tradition of marking the Mahapurush’s death anniversary at Patbousi Than by offering Karbhars of food and items of everyday use to the disciples.
It is this tradition that is still being celebrated by Sankardeva’s disciples. Every year, on the death anniversary of Sankardeva the disciples from Brindabanhati (Uttarhati) used arrive at the Barpeta Satra with food items including with rice, oil, salt, gourds, raw bananas, elephant fruit, and firewood in their Bhar or the traditional bamboo baskets attached to a pole that hangs from a shoulder -- a common mode of carrying loads manually in Assam. The Karbhars thereafter go to Patbousi Than as per the tradition.
After the death of Madhabdeva, the disciples at the Barpeta Satra also began observing his death anniversary along with that of his Guru, Sankardeva. Later, the Satra also added to the list the death anniversary of its first Satradhikar Mathura Das Burha Aata since it was him who started the tradition of offering Karvars from the Barpeta Satra to the Patbousi Than.
The procession of Karbhar is a sight to behold. The procession is led by a group that chants the holy name of Lord Krishna. It is followed by a group of Ojapali dancers along with two parallel rows of devotees playing the traditional musical instrument Khol in a specific rhythm. Those carrying the bhars follow the dancers and the Khol players. Thousands gather in Barpeta town to witness this age-old tradition.
On arrival at the Than, the Karvars are first brought to a field called Mothor Chotal. Thereafter, they are distributed among the devotees who have a bhag or share at the Than traditionally. The man who does the distribution on behalf of the Barpeta Satra, is called Bora. There is a Bora representing each of the 22 hatis ( a cluster of houses of Satra disciple is called hati).
Even after four centuries have passed, thanks to this tradition, a sense of closeness and the need to share what they have with others with devotion, has bound together the people of this region.