Guwahati Gyan : Hari Sabha and Sanatan Dharma
Guwahati has always embraced secularism, serving as a melting pot of all the cultures and traditions brought in by the people who have migrated here from across the country. This attitude of Guwahatians led to the establishment of an institution that adopted 'Sanatan Dharma', which depicts a way of life rather than religion alone.
Hari Sabha, located at Panbazar, Guwahati was established as the seat of Sanatan Dharma in 1913. The establishment brought together all communities irrespective of their socio-cultural and religious differences.
Initially, the institution started on a plot of land donated by Rajanikanta Chowdhury of Sarbhog, Barpeta. The Sanatan Dharma Sabha Trust had five members representing different communities. They were Rai Bahadur Bhubanram Das and Raisaheb Chidananda Chowdhury from Assamese, Rai Bahadur Kali Charan Sengupta and Kunja Behari Bangopadhyay from Bengali, and Moti Chand Agarwal from the Marwari community. Kali Charan Sengupta was the institution’s first secretary.
With donations collected from the masses, a tin and wooded structure was constructed that had the main temple and a sabha griha (meeting hall). This meeting hall is one of the oldest duplex structures of the northeast.
As the popularity of Sanatan Dharma increased, more donations poured in from the believers. In 1916, two more adjacent plots were acquired by the Hari Sabha Trust with this money. A stage was constructed for cultural activities like jatra, bhoana, dance, and others. In 1996 a new temple was constructed.
Initially, five pujas were celebrated - Jadadhatri, Annapurna, Ratha Yatra, Dol Janmashtami and Raas. Later, the subordinate committees established by the well-wishers of the trust introduced Saraswati Puja, Durga, Kali, and Lakshmi pujas. During immersion, Hari Sabha has the ritual of carrying the idols on shoulders from the venue to the ghat. But for the past couple of years, there has been a dearth of people to carry the idols and so, the committee has been using a trolley. Ever since independence, Sankardev Tithi and Madhavdev Tithi are also annually celebrated in the Hari Sabha premises.
Apart from its role in the religious aspect of Guwahati, its socio-cultural contributions have been immense. The first girls' school of Guwahati was started on its premises at the initiative of Prof. Lakshmi Narayan Chatterjee. 'Kumari Vidyalaya' as it was known, held classes up to Class VI. Further, regular Sunday afternoon classes, called “Balya Ashram,” were held for boys that taught the ethical values of Vedanta, Upanishads, and lessons from Indian history.
During the independence struggle regular training on the art of handling the sword and was imparted to both boys and girls. Umesh Sengupta, who participated in such camps at Harisabha in his late teens, recollected how the police secretly warned them on several occasions for their “anti-British activities”, but never raided the Hari Sabha premises. The government later banned all political activities in the Hari Sabha.
The cultural function in the sabha has seen performances from legends like Bishnu Prasad Rabha, Bhupen Hazarika, Hemanta Mukherjee, and Manabendra Mukherjee amongst others. Calcutta’s famous ‘Bholanath’ and ‘Royal’ opera parties have also performed here.
Source: Heritage Guwahati