Negotiating Spaces for a Shared Social Existence
Blurred Boundaries of Ek-sharan-naam-dharma in Assam
This paper delves into the idea of space, primarily at the level of a constructed, physical space of naamghar. Naamghars are prayer halls made expressly for the devotionals of the Krishna avatara of Vishnu, popularised in the 16th century by Sankaradeva, a saint leader of Assam. In addition to the physical space of the naamghar, the paper deals with the spiritual space that encompasses Sankaradeva’s religious ideology referred to as Ek-sharan-naam-dharma, or Naba boishnab-baad (Neo-vaishnavism). This study is located in the region of Dikhowmukh, a group of villages in the district of Sivasagar in Assam. Within the ambit of the above-mentioned spiritual space, the paper examines the relationship between the followers of the Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha, an organisation formed in the 20th century around the teachings of Sankardeva, and others, who follow Sankaradeva’s mode of Vishnu worship but are not members of the sankardeva sangha. The article further explores how these groups navigate the space of naamghar. Finally, the study also engages with how the people of the region in general, navigate the complex boundaries between and within these spaces to create a shared-existence. The naamghar and the Ek-sharan-naam-dharma are not restricted to being the backdrop for action to unravel, but are distinct entities that shape and influence ways in which people orient their everyday lives and social relations. The interaction between these two spaces in Dikhowmukh provides avenues for the study of implications for evolving social dynamics within the Ek-sharan-naam-dharma in the broader context of Assam.
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