The beginning of the twentieth century saw the onset of a different type of movement in Assam. It
The beginning of the twentieth century saw the onset of a different type of movement in Assam. It was a movement of search for truth, where some revolutionary intellectuals took the leadership. These people participated in the freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. In the true Gandhian spirit they initiated a reform movement in this region. They tried to remove superstitions prevalent in the society. They realized that the message of Srimanta Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva, two medieval saints, was the only path to redeem the society from the domination of high caste people as well as regressive practices. Though Srimanta Sankaradeva (1449-1568 AD) had preached an egalitarian ideology in fifteenth century itself, some people with vested interests had infiltrated into the Satra institution and entrenched themselves as sole custodians of the order. They even introduced caste barrier in some places, contrary to the concept preached by Srimanta Sankaradeva. The first person, who took his mighty pen to fight these evils was Lakshminath Bezbarooah, the great litterateur of modern Assam. He had come to know about the life and works of Srimanta Sankaradeva from the hagiography authored by his father, Dinanath Bezbarooah. Lakshminath Bezbarooah, the pioneer short story writer, wrote incessantly about the ideology of Srimanta Sankaradeva in his philosophical books and articles. He gave discourses about the saint outside Assam, especially in Baroda.
While the intellectual giants like Lakshminath Bezbarooah were fighting the social evils, many activities were going on at that time in grass-root level also in Assam. Some small organizations like Prarthana Sabha, Jnanmalini Sabha etc held study circles, Kirtana-ghosha reading session, religious seminars etc in nooks and corners of the state. Such activities took place at Barapujiya of Marigaon district, Kaliabor, Palasoni etc of Nagaon district, Dhekiyal of Golaghat district, and later at Sualkuchi of Kamrup district. But the organizers of these activities did not have any co-relation among themselves. So an integrated effort had not come into being. This became possible when two persons, Ramakanta Muktiar and Haladhar Bhuyan came together at Nagaon.
This historic meeting took place in 1928 AD in the premises of Biren Mahanta, the then chairman of Nagaon Municipal Board. Ramakanta Muktiar had already been advising people to remove the malaise, which had crept into the Eka Sarana Nama Dharma preached by Srimanta Sankaradeva in the fifteenth century. Haladhar Bhuyan advised him to do it in an organized method. It was then decided that a permanent publicity centre should be set up. Muktiar used to move around in a bicycle. Thus he came to know about an organization named Jnanmalini Sabha at Palasoni, eight kilometres away from the Nagaon town on the Eastern side. As the members of Jnanmalini Sabha promised assistance to Muktiar in his objectives, he set up a permanent publicity centre there in consultation with Haladhar Bhuyan. People in different places of Assam whole-heartedly supported it and joined this effort. Eventually the publicity centre was named as Sankara Sangha in 1930 AD. Actually there had been a revival of reform activities of Eka Sarana Nama Dharma all over the state since 1909-10 AD. All those scattered units now came together, under the umbrella of Sankara Sangha as it showed a ray of hope to them that reform activities will actually gather momentum.
The Sankara Sangha was formed with the active help of the residents of Ouana village, Karaioni village, Lataimari village etc near Palasoni village. Haladhar Bhuyan formed a local management committee with these people for the organizational works. The president and secretary of this commit tee were Manipad Bora of Ouana village and Sanatram Bora of Palasoni village. This method was continued in Sankara Sangha even in later period. It is a fully democratic organization, just as Srimanta Sankaradeva had practised the religion in the fifteenth century. One or more villages under the Sankara Sangha have one such committee, which is known as Prathamic Samiti (primary committee). The committee headed by Manipad Bora was the first ever Prathamic Samiti. Presently the Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha has 5,672 Prathamic Samiti, which itself is a record for any religious organization. Sankara Sangha convened a state level conference in 1932 AD at Palasoni. Moreover annual conferences were also held in the district level regularly till 1935 AD. These were however confined to the Nagaon district at that time. The first ever state level committee was formed on February 4, 1934 AD in Sankaradeva Mandir premises of Nagaon town.
The fourth conference, held on April 21, 1935 AD in Nagaon town was presided over by Nilamani Phukan, a great litterateur, as Padadhikar. He suggested change in the name of the organization from Sankara Sangha to Sri Sri Sankaradeva Sangha. Accordingly, the name of the organization was changed to Sri Sri Sankaradeva Sangha. Later this name was changed yet again in the conference held in North Lakhimpur in 1970 AD, when it became Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha. A distinguished scholar, Upendra Chandra Adhikari also was present in the 1935 session. Professor V. P Joshi, the founder of Arya Samaj participated in that conference and expressed support to the Sangha.
The formation of the Sangha had a massive impact all over the state. Many debates were organized in different places. The followers of Eka Sarana Nama Dharma established the true philosophy of Srimanta Sankaradeva in these debates. They had to face stiff opposition from the priest community over the commemoration function of the dead. The priests opposed the purification on eleventh day itself merely by chanting of God’s name. One such debate was held at Phulaguri near Nagaon town on December 28 of 1933 AD. The priests fielded as many as 18 Sanskrit scholars. The Sangha was represented by Ramakanta Muktiar, Haladhar Bhuyan and Bhuban Chandra Bhuyan, an erudite Sanskrit scholar. Bhuban Chandra Bhuyan led the Sangha in this debate, which was presided over by Lakshminarayana Shastri, the then Principal of Cotton College. The futility of Karmakanda was proved in this debate. Similar debates were held at different places of Nagaon district like Juria, Pathori, Kaliabor etc. There were also debates at Balipet in Kamrup district, Bogidol in Sivasagar district, Titabor, Borhola etc in Jorhat district and many places in Golaghat district. The Balipet debate took place between the followers of Eka Sarana Nama Dharma and the Gouriya scholars. There was a marathon debate for long twenty three days in Barpeta. The arguments offered from Sangha were accepted in all these debates.
It may be mentioned that all these debates ensued from one particular issue. Mother of Jogendra Nath Barua, a judge in Golaghat had expired. Thereupon Barua procured a letter of recommendation from the Satradhikar of Garmur Satra that he could get the commemoration service done by Nama-Prasanga. This letter was drafted by Gopika Ballabh Goswami. Barua completed the service accordingly. But it led to a massive turmoil all over the state. The activists of Sangha successfully defended it in all debates. The supremacy of Nama-Prasanga was thereby established.