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21st century impact: Internet, mobiles making Bihar groom fair irrelevant

After a lull, concerted effort of Maithil Brahmins sees people turn up to explore wedding prospects the traditional way at Madhubani’s Saurath village.

india Updated: Jul 11, 2017 17:01 IST
Reena Sopam
The Sabha Gachhi was held at Saurath village from June 25 to July 3.
The Sabha Gachhi was held at Saurath village from June 25 to July 3. (Reena Sopam/HT Photo)

For generations of Brahmins of Mithila or Maithil Brahmins, matches were made in a haven named Saurath.

Every wedding season, hundreds of prospective grooms, their relatives, and kin of potential brides would reach Saurath village in north Bihar for their traditional groom’s fair known as Saurath Sabha (congregation).

Accompanied by ghataks or mediators and assisted by panjikaars who maintain family records, they would explore prospects and finalise weddings. The gathering would be at Sabha Gachhi, a mango orchard. Women were not allowed at the gathering then, they are not now.

Then 21st century arrived and nudged out a centuries-old matchmaking tradition. People moved on. Internet, mobile phones and technology helped fix more matches than Saurath Sabha.

Footfalls at Saurath Sabha in Madhubani district, 192km from state capital Patna, dwindled. But 2017 brought a few Maithil Brahmins back following a concerted community campaign.

However, even the faithful acknowledge Saurath Sabha is not sustainable.

Sabha Gachhi could be preserved and promoted as a cultural centre of Mithila, says Vijay Kumar Mishra, president of Chetna Samiti, an organisation of Maithils. (Reena Sopam)

“These were needed when people had limited sources of communication. You cannot expect a Maithil settled in Delhi, Mumbai or abroad to spend days at Sabha Gachhi for wedding negotiations,” says Saurath resident Bipin Bihari Jha, a retired government official. “It (Sabha Gachhi) is redundant now.”

This upsets panjikaar Vishwamohan Chandra Mishra. “Engagement ceremonies and weddings at five-star hotels are a status symbol these days. People find it degrading to visit the Sabha Gachhi,” he says.

“Panji is a socio-cultural system, which prohibits marriages between persons of similar genealogical background. It was prevalent even during the age of Nanya Singh Dev, the first Karnat ruler of Darbhanga. Raja Hari Singh Dev, another Karnat dynasty ruler, codified it in 14th century. It is a scientific system and the Sabha facilitated Maithil Brahmins to follow it,” he adds.

Prafull Chandra Jha, president of Saurath Sabha Aayojan Samiti, says their congregation losing influence has hurt locals too who earned by providing different services and materials. “Not less than 50,000 people have lost their source of livelihood.”

Jha adds, “Barring former railway minister Lalit Narayan Mishra, nobody did anything for development of the site. He got half-a-dozen yatri sheds (resting places) built and renovated ghats (flight of steps) along the pond at the site. Most of these are now in a poor condition. A couple of structures are being used for coaching classes and homeopathy clinics.”

Some do believe there is a future for Saurath Sabha, but not in its present format.

Vijay Kumar Mishra, president of Chetna Samiti, an organisation of Maithils, says, “Sabha Gachhi might be not relevant for matchmaking these days, but it could be preserved and promoted as a cultural centre of Mithila.”

He adds, “Those settled in other states and abroad want to revive their ties with Mithila. The Sabha can be developed as tourist spot.”

Premchand Jha, general secretary of Maithili Samanway Samiti, Mumbai, agrees. “Sabha is a part of Mithila’s culture and should be preserved.”

500 years of tradition
  • Saurath Sabha was among 22 gatherings held in ancient times in villages of Mithila comprising Maithili-speaking regions of northern and eastern Bihar, say experts.
  • Raja Hari Singh Dev donated 22 acres to Karn-Maithil Brahman Mahasabha nearly 500 years ago for the congregation.
  • The site is now owned by Kameshwar Singh Trust and has a Madhaveshwar temple and pond. These were developed by Maharaja Chhatra Singh Bahadur, a Khandawala dynasty ruler of Darbhanga.