Ranjan Kumar Padmapati

Lord Siva has a non-Aryan origin, and is a later entry into the Hindu fold. In Assam all the three streams of Hinduism – Saivism, Saktism and Vaishnavism – have been in harmony. Assam is a meeting ground of different races, tribes and sub-tribes; their customs, traditions and rituals are intermixed thoroughly. Among the temples the Siva temples are numerous compared to other gods. The Kalika Purana mentions 15 places of Siva worship, five Devi temples and another five Vishnu temples. The popularity of Saivism can be ascertained from the 10 copper plates of seven Hindu kings spreading over a period from 7th century to 12th century AD. Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang) recorded, “There were hundreds of Deva temples, many of which were dedicated to Siva.” He mentioned the worship of other sects too. The Kalika Purana though fully devoted to Devi worship contains chapters eulogizing the worship of Siva, Vishnu and other gods. The ruins of a Siva temple dating back to 600 AD, the oldest in Assam, have been discovered in Tezpur. There have been references in the Yogini Tantra that the number of Siva Lingas in Kamrup exceeds a million.

Raibahadur Gunabhiram Baruah postulated the theory that Siva worship came to Kamrupa at the instance of Jalpesvara, a mythological king of modern Jalpaiguri who founded the temple called Jalpesvara when it was a part of Kamrupa. According to Banikanta Kakati, when the Aryan migration started since the beginning of the Christian era, the Aryans came into contact with the aboriginal people of this land. In the process the Vedic religion underwent radical changes chiefly by adoptions of deities and religious myths which were beyond the Brahminical ethos. Both the ways of worship, the Aryan mode and the local ways of worshipping Siva, are being practised even now. The king of Cooch Behar Naranarayan offered worship to Siva in accordance with Sastric (Vedic) rituals on the eve of his expedition against the Ahom kingdom. But his Kachari soldiers insisted that Lord Siva be worshipped according to tribal rites. Worship was done by sacrificing pigs, buffaloes, he-goats, etc., and offering of liquor and the dancing of women. Haria Mandal, father of Bisva Singha, and 12 other associated chiefs were the followers of Lord Siva. Siva is also referred to as Batho, Bathou, Bathau-Brai and Siva-Rai by the Bodo tribe and his consort is known as Bali Khungri.

Even in the epic age, Bhagadatta was an ardent worshipper of Lord Siva and his successor Brajadatta too was a devotee of Siva. In the initial verse of Nidhanpur copper plate grant, Bhaskarvarman invokes Siva in his praise. In the Harsha Charita, there has been mention that Bhaskarvarman had resolved ‘never to do homage to any being except the lotus feet of Siva’. Also in the Guwahati grant of Indrapala, the opening verse has reference to Siva and Gauri. In the same grant belonging to the 11th century, there has been mention that the king constructed numerous Siva temples in his kingdom. Thus it has been observed that both in the recorded history and in the prehistoric distant past, the prominent kings of this province were devotees of Lord Siva.

The influence of the Brahminical culture started shaping the religious ethos this land and this continued till the time of the Ahoms, when a synthesis started. The Nidhanpur copper plate grant of Bhutivarman of the 6th century bears the names of 205 Brahmans who settled in Assam to spread the Vedic religion. The non-Aryan people were converted to Hinduism. The Brahmans concocted the story that the Koch people were the descendants of Lord Siva and Bhima of the Mahabharata was a progenitor of the Kacharis. The Ahoms are said to be the descendants of Indra. In the process different ethnic groups were absorbed into the Hindu fold. The Ahom kings patronized Hinduism, built many Siva temples in this region. In the Kalika Purana and Yogini Tantra, Siva appears merely in his Bhairaba form rather than a normal god. There was a practice of keeping temple girls in the Siva temples till the recent past. In the land grant of Varnamala Deva of the 9th century, there is mention of Daluhangana (temple girl). The principal queen of Ahom king Siva Singha, Phuleswari, was a temple girl. Another striking feature as noted by Banikanta Kakati is the animal sacrifice on the occasion of Siva Saturdarsi where the castrated goats are strangled to death in the precincts of temples.

As Siva is worshipped mostly in the Linga form, not many Siva images are found. The earliest Siva image was found at the Sun temple in Tezpur, a standing Siva in the Smapada-sthanaka position with two hands. An image of Nataraj Siva in the dancing posture with 10 hands curved in a big stone was found near Guwahati. Yet another Nataraj image of Siva was found in Bamuni Hill with six hands. A composite image of Siva and Vishnu is located in North Guwahati that reflects the cordial relations amongst the different sects. The Assam State Museum is in possession of a few more Siva images of different ages.

(Published on the occasion of Mahasivaratri today.)