Second Lokgyani Workshop Report

A Report on
“Mahima Dharma, Marginal Groups and Dissenting Vision”
Held on 7th - 8th August 2010 at Puri

The two-day seminar on “Mahima Dharma, Marginal Groups and Dissenting Vision”, organized by Dalit Resource Centre, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad was held at Puri n 7th and 8th of August, 2010. Introducing the Seminar, Badri Narayan, Director of the DRC, explained how different religious sects in different regions of the country came up, challenging the established notions and systems prevalent at the time. All these movements sprang from grassroots level. The discussions to follow in this seminar, he said, will be covering the insiders’ point of view as well as the erudition of the scholars of Mahima Dharma.

In delivering keynote address, Prof. Jatindra K. Nayak made it clear that any discourse on a topic like powerful Mahima Dharma has to rely heavily on insight wisdom rather than on academic approach. Talking about movements in India, he referred to Bishnu Narayan Mohapatra’s and Sumeet Sarkar’s articles, especially on Brahmo Samaj. He laid stress on the fact that one has to be with the Sadhus of Mahima Dharma to know and feel the inwardness of Mahima sect. Then only one can realize its importance and its relevance to our time. For that matter, one has to listen to the Sadhus and look into the inside discourse.

Sadhu Narasingh Das, head of Gop Ashram from western Orissa talked from his experience as well as his knowledge on Mahima Dharma, yet not before citing those verses of Bhima Bhoi who seeks surrender before the feet of the Mahima Gosain, the God incarnate. He laid stress on Dharma, Karma and Samskar. He also talked of the conflict between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, which has given rise to Mahima Dharma. To end kaliyuga, Mahima Gosain appeared on earth and set a socio-economic-religious crusade. In this context, he mentioned that Bhima Bhoi was the central figure of Mahima Dharma, so far as the question of popularity of this dharma is concerned.  To substantiate his stand, he referred to the battle between Pandavas and Kauravas as that between ‘have-nots’ and ‘haves’. In order to achieve that state of surrender before the feet of Parambrahma one has to overcome hunger, thirst and sleep. It is only pursuit of truth that prompts one to take the right path to the Brahma. Finally, he brought in the issue of conflict of religions of that time, where Mahima Dharma played a major role in combating the spread of Christianity to the hills areas of Orissa. Situating Mahima Dharma in the soil of Orissa, he made it clear that Mahima Dharma was not against Brahmanism exactly. It is basically a reformist movement, which fought against elitism and idol worship. The whole aim of a Mahimite was to surrender at the feet of Mahima.

Debendra Das began his speech by contesting the stand of Sadhu Narasingha Das by saying that his was an inspired speech, which is difficult to prove if one goes by historical records. He cited facts that are there in historical records. About Bhima Bhoi’s poetry on Mahima Dharma, Debendra Das observed that even if the poet Bhima Bhoi was the contemporary of Radhanath Roy and Madhusudan Das, he was different in perception and expression of the reality. The wide prevalence of Mahima Dharma in Orissa owed to the fact that Brahminism had not spread widely in Orissa at that time. It was during the period of Ganga that the Brahminism got a strong foothold. Therefore, he stressed that one has to consider the state of affairs, both political and religious in the Western Orissa where Mahima dharma had a strong foothold. In the socio-political sphere there were therefore, some conflict, some digression, some compromise and yet not without any conflict. It was only after 1860s that Mahima Dharma came to stay on the western part of Orissa, which was due to political unrest in the feudatory states. Mahima Dharma came as a balm, as a psychological compensation.

In his short speech Prasanta Pradhan said that dharmic and academic researchers vary as regards the theory and practice of Mahima dharma. In course of discourse the essence of Dharma is not highlighted. Despite all talks, the cry of human being has not been assuaged. He ended his note with the question whether it can any more act as any solution to the materialistic human being of 21st century.

In reply to it, Prabas Ranjan Sahu said that yes it can, as the Mahima Dharma lays stress on rigour and strictly observed principles and practices.

About the royal support of Mahima followers, Debendra Das said there could be no religious practices in any kingdom or fiefdom without the royal patronage, however stated or veiled that might be.

Fanindam Deo steered the discussion towards the relevance of a religion in a world driven by globalization. Basudev Sunani tried to situate Mahima Dharma in a period in Orissa, where people from marginalized caste barred society tried to seek spiritual solace in a religion which gave them an altogether different identify and a sort of social protection.

Antaryami Baba offered an insider’s insight into this felt religion, where one can overcome spiritual void in everyday life. He quoted very often from Bhima Bhoi’s verses to substantiate his stand that Mahimites not only think of their own well being, but also of the entire world. It was a crusade against a society obsessed with caste-system. Referring to the origin of cosmos, he eulogized the omniscience of Mahima Gosain. He extensively threw light on the hard practices of Mahima followers and what a good impact that had on the society of their time. The wandering Mahimites were received well by the householders. Yet nowhere did they stay more than one night at a time.

Trilochan Patel offered an historical background of the time and place where Mahima Dharma gained its foothold: how hundreds of Tungis were there to give shelter to the wandering followers of Mahima Dharma in the region bordering the Chattisgarh State. He said that Mahima Dharma was not just a philosophy but also one of practice.

Tekchand Duan primarily dwelt on the power of miraculous healing of the Mahima Sadhus in the Western Orissa.

Bhima Prusthi had a thrust on the sociological aspect of this Dharma. He had more questions, than answers. In those questions are the seeds of answers. As an example, why did Mahima Gosain choose Bhima the boy? Why not Mahima dharma be called an NGO that works towards uplift of the society.

Concluding the session Badri Narayan, Director of the GB Part Institute, said that Mahima Dharma is knowledge plus progress, not a mere religious sect, which is working towards a better society. To analyse this phenomenon, he said, one needs to keep in mind the fact that knowledge, devotional songs and discourse should be combined, which will help analyse this unique phenomenon called Mahima Dharma.

8th August 2010

On the 2nd day seminar on 8th August 2010, Harihar Mishra, chairing the session, traced the growth of Mahima Dharma and the role Bhima Bhoi played in disseminating the Dharma. Bhima Bhoi was a rebel, even a rebel against himself. He had to overcome the obstacles outside as well as inside to reach as much as he could to the mass. His poetry was so powerful and so appealing to lay man that it soon became popular. His poetry had a contemporary relevance. He also said that Oriya poets today who are outraged at the social evil owe their allegiance to Bhima Bhoi. The challenges he took up are to be reevaluated now because he raised his voice against Sanskrit establishment. At the time of Bhoi Bhoi, Bhajans were not accompanied by musical instrument like Khanjani.

Guru Mahima Gosain was Parampurusa, Swayamsidha. The Purusottama we see in the Gita is not Jagannath. Mahima is a Sampradaya, Society, accessible to common people. Mahima Dharma acknowledges the foibles of human being, and, so, offers deliverance, which can be achieved by common familial man. Jivan is one with the Parampurusha, only one has to be aware of the need to reach a higher level of consciousness.

Gouranga Charan Das saw contradictions in Mahima Dharma and talked about its future challenges. It is a slippery topic, he said, adding he was a believer in Jagannathand that he did not believe in going to the Puri temple.

At that time feudatory states were oppressive to their subjects. There were at that time Brahmo Dharma and Dayanand Saraswati Schools. Mukund Das could not digest it. He was not reactionary. He sought ways out. The paradoxical alternative he offered was of high order–there will be caste yet no caste, there will king yet no king, there will be temple yet no temple – a kind of religious sect which would be acceptable to all. To demystify, Bhima Bhoi said that what is not to be seen could be seen, what seems to be distant could be near. That is possible when one tries to see through things. The challenges Mahima Gosain faced was embedded in king, in the colonial intrigue, in established religion. To take up the challenge he stumbled upon Bhima Bhoi who was an extraordinary man who was singing bhajans. This dharma saw man as man, beyond caste and religion. The dharma became a filler of the silence in the oppressed man.

Mahima Gosain also addressed to the economic condition. He advocated simple ceremonies in marriage, birth and death. Above up, Mahima Dharma was a new wave of religious sentiment.

Kedar Mishra dwelt on the life and poetry of Bhima Bhoi. He said, “here we are together, of two kinds of people: sadhus and scholars, of faith and argument. A scholar is likely not to have the feeling of a believer; he goes by facts.

How one can amalgamate the contradictions, was the crux of the issue. We should have a meeting point. The elements of protest in Mahima Dharma should be demarcated. Why should  we say that Mahima Dharma is not a new religion, when in fact it is so. Bhima’s “Stuti Nisedha Gita” opposes Hindu rituals and worships – which is one concrete example of protest. The paradoxical lifestyle of Bhima was evident in his poetry, in which he could be praising Hindu gods in one place and then he could be critical of the way..

“Alekh Leda’ was a counter movement of Rama Leela. Nirbeda Sadhana’ was also vociferous in its protest against Jagannath culture. Puri temple attack by Mahima Dharm in 1881 is a historical fact. What is a fact needs to be acknowledged, not sidelined as a sensitive issue.

Till 1901, Census enrolled Mahima Dharma as a religion, separate from Hinduism. Gradually, it is merging with mainstream Hinduism.

Bhima Bhoi is the Chronicler of Mahima Gosai’s Principles. Nowhere Bhima has framed any rules and regulations of Mahima Dharma. After 1925, Mahima is seen as a Sanyasa, instead of Gruhi, Dharma. The record shows from 1850 to 1921 there have been sanyasins in the dharma. Bhima Bhoi’s wooden sandal and Maa Annapurnaa are worshipped, which indicates the inclusion of women in Mahima order.

In 1911 Nagendranath Basu enshowed Mahia Dharma as an off-shoot of Buddhism. Later, B.C. Majumdar supports the idea. For the first time, Chittaranjan said that Mahima is an Upanishadic dharma. It is an effort to dilute the dharma. The sole aim of major writers like Chittaranjan Das and Satrughan Nath is to show that is not an off-shoot of Buddhism. Biswanath Das is no exception.

Vyasa Moharana said that there is a tension between the believers and the scholars. One needs to seek a meeting point. There is ontological and epistemological divide. It has to be abridged. Experience, faith-faced belief is against scientific approach. Paradoxes in the Dharma are now minimized. We create categories and then try to fit reality into it; which is a problem, which makes the Dharma a misfit. Rather reality should frame its category. We have to consider what the Subaltern thinks.  It will facilitate the framing of its own category.

In prior talks there is no discussion of future of the Dharma. There is a Satyayuga coming, as it is also there in Bhima Bhoi’s poetry. The Nirvedia society of a certain low caste Bauri sect is considering to have a moral society.            Dalit-ness is constructed. It belongs to Ambedkar School.

Sanjiv Nayak was of the opinion that Mahima dharma is against rigidity.  The principles in Mahima Dharma became liberal. Ironically this dharma which was against rigidity has now turned rigid, which is the cause of its decreasing popularity. We should rather be proud that Mahima Dharmis attacked Puri Temple. Tension helps dispelling of tension.

Basudev Sunani said that himself as a Dalit he could relate his experience how caste-ridden society is a fertile ground to give birth to a dissenting religion like Mahima dharma. We have to consider in which circumstances did the Buddha, Christ, Mahima Gosain emerged. Mahima was a corporal body, not a non-entity.      Bhima talked of a better future in a society that believed in caste-discrimination, which must have driven Gosain to offer an alternative society. In certain texts, Mahima is considered as a religion of the paana, a dalit caste. There is a cultural similarity. Mahima Gosain and Bhima bhoi are great because they imagined a caste-less society.

Badri Narayan concluded the session with the remark that wise people and Sadhus are in conflict; we have to explore ways as to how to rise out of this conflict. No religion is an island. Bhima Bhoi as a poet tried to locate areas where the religion worked. Mahima Gosain laid foundation to a much needed religion of the time.