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Attempt to recreate 16th century sacred cloth divides Assam’s Vaishnavite monasteries

Vrindavani Vastra, made by a group of weavers in the 16th century under the supervision of eminent scholar-cum-saint Srimanta Sankardeb, depicts the childhood of Lord Krishna in Vrindavan.

india Updated: Jul 14, 2019 17:39 IST
Utpal Parashar
Utpal Parashar
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
Vrindavani Vastra,Assam’s Vaishnavite monasteries,Srimanta Sankardeb
Last week, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal launched an initiative of the Dakhinpat satra in Majuli Island in the state to reproduce the sacred cloth.The island is home to 36 Vaishnavite satras or monasteries – the largest concentration of such satras in Assam.(HT PHOTO.)

An effort to create an imitation of Vrindavani Vastra, a sacred cloth made more than 450 years ago, has created a divide among Assam’s Vaishnavite monasteries, popularly known as ‘satras’.

Vrindavani Vastra, made by a group of weavers in the 16th century under the supervision of eminent scholar-cum-saint Srimanta Sankardeb, depicts the childhood of Lord Krishna in Vrindavan.

But the initiative to create an imitation of the cloth held sacred by Sankardeb’s millions of followers have created a division in the ‘satras’, the seats of religious and cultural learning started by the saint himself.

The 180ft x 90ft long original Vrindavani Vastra is no longer available in Assam and parts of it, which reached Europe in the early part of the 20th century, are preserved in Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Guimet Museum in Paris.

Efforts to bring back the cloth to Assam or hold its display in the state in recent years have failed. The technique used to weave Vrindavani Vastra also died out several centuries ago.

Last week, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal launched an initiative of the Dakhinpat satra in Majuli Island in the state to reproduce the sacred cloth.

Lauding Dakhinpat satra for the initiative, Sonowal said it would help the younger generation to understand Sankardeb’s legacy and introduce them to the unique weaving skill. He said the state government has made fresh efforts to bring the cloth back.

“A 15 ft loom has been made specifically for the purpose. Six pieces of cloth of 15ft x 180ft each will be prepared in the loom by 15 weavers and finally stitched together,” said Mon Rajguru, a member of the committee undertaking the project.

Though the Vrindavani Vastra would be made using Muga and Eri silks, but the first to test the loom the weavers would use cotton to weave a dummy. The entire process is expected to take 18 months and cost Rs 60 lakh—borne by Dakhinpat satra and from public donations.

Stressing that the effort is not to make an exact replica of the Vrindavani Vastra, Rajguru stated that the effort would be an imitation of the original and could have mistakes.

While Rajguru claims that the initiative by Dakhinpat satra has the support of 10 other ‘satras’, the Asom Sattra Mahasabha (ASM), the biggest body of ‘satras’ across Assam is vehemently opposing the move.

“Whether it is an imitation or an exact replica of the Vrindavani Vastra, we are totally against the move. Making a copy of it would reduce the sanctity of the original and we will not accept it,” said Jitendra Nath Pradhani, president of the Mahasabha.

Pradhani claimed that most ‘satras’ including several prominent ones like Barpeta, Borduwa and Patbausi are also opposing the initiative and would even take legal recourse to stop it.

First Published: Jul 14, 2019 17:39 IST