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400-year-old xatra in Bengal cries neglect

Madhupur (Cooch Behar), Dec. 10: The 400-odd-years-old Madhupur Xatra in Cooch Behar district of Bengal is now in a moribund state, allegedly owing to lack of initiative by the Assam government to keep the historically important monastery in good shape.

The xatra, founded by none other than great Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Sankardev in the 16th century, has immense importance from the cultural and religious standpoints as it has the potential to be developed into a cultural hub for Assam and Bengal residents.

The xatra is 9km from Cooch Behar town but the road leading to it is full of potholes and the monastery compound is full of disfiguring pools of stagnant water. The buildings, too, are crying for repair.

A source said the xatra, built on a 16-bigha plot in Madhupur village, had guesthouses, a cultural centre and a guru ghar (teacher’s house) — all of which were now in a dilapidated condition.

Quizzed on the dilapidated condition of roads leading to Madhupur Xatra, Cooch Behar District Magistrate Mohan Gandhi told The Telegraph that the road is a national highway (NH 31) and he had written several times to the National Highways Authority to release funds. “But the National Highways Authority is not releasing the funds and we are helpless as far as the construction of the dilapidated road is concerned.”

Gandhi, however, said apart from this, Madhupur Xatra could approach him for any other assistance which could be locally extended for the development of the site.

The source said over the years, despite promises by successive chief ministers of Assam to transform the xatra into a cultural and religious hub along with setting up of a Xattriya Academy, nothing had been done so far.

The current buildings of the monastery were constructed in the early 1960s when Mahendra Mohan Choudhury and Bimala Prasad Chaliha were the chief ministers of Assam but after that, virtually no steps were taken by the government to sustain the source of funds needed for maintenance and development of the xatra.

The source said the xatra had no permanent income source and depended on the contributions made by guests who come visiting round the year. A good amount of money is required by the xatra, as eight persons, including the xatradhikar, stay on its premises, rendering service without any remuneration. Sometimes, the management has to take loans to keep things running.

The source said the akhaybanti (lamp) and other lamps required seven litres of oil every day and oil was expensive.

Talking to The Telegraph, Xatradhikar Lakhe Kanta Mahanta lamented the present dilapidating condition of almost all buildings in the xatra.

“The list of things that need to be done immediately is long. Earth-filling, provision of drainage for letting out the stagnant water, construction of sanitation facilities and bathroom, repairing and construction of guru ghar, kirtan ghar (prayer room), fitting of iron grill around the guru ghar along with a gate, construction of an overhead tank for drinking water provision, residential quarters for the working residents and nat ghar (cultural hall) are some of the pressing requirements,” Mahanta said.

He said besides these basic requirements, more guesthouses needed to be constructed, as the number of pilgrims visiting the monastery was increasing every year and on an average, 8,000 people from various parts of Assam visited the xatra annually.

There are eight rooms for housing the pilgrims but these, too, are in bad shape, Mahanta added.

To keep itself up-to-date with the goings-on in Assam, Mahanta appealed to newspaper houses of Assam to send a copy to the xatra, as it remains cut off from the state.

The only silver lining for the ailing institution has been a grant of Rs 50 lakh extended by Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi on April 25 this year.

But according to sources, this amount was too low to implement the plan to make the xatra a cultural and religious hub, assimilating cultural elements of both Assam and Bengal.

Moreover, though it has been almost a year since the grant was sanctioned, development work at the xatra is yet to begin.

Dhubri DRDA engineer Jawaharlal Roy said as directed by the district authority, he had visited Madhupur Xatra three months ago and prepared a plan and estimate in consultation with the xatradhikar. He then sent it to the Assam cultural affairs department so that the funds announced by the chief minister are released and used.

Roy said he expected the money to be released in January, following which work at the monastery could be started.


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