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Cremation clears controversy

- Asom Satra Mahasabha objects to administration’s choice of site

Guwahati, June 13: The administration today used excavators and prepared a new road into the campus of Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra here not just to take the mortal remains of Khagen Mahanta for cremation but also to bury a controversy over the King of Bihu’s memorial.

The controversy began after Asom Satra Mahasabha, the apex body of the xatras (Vaishnavite monastery) objected to the administration’s plan to cremate Mahanta on the premises of the Kalakshetra.

They argued that the cultural complex, which is named after Vaishnavite saint Srimanta Xankardeb and a major tourist destination in the state, should not be turned into a “cremation ground”.

As television channels aired the administration’s plan, the Mahasabha and others working on Xankardeb urged the state government to reconsider its decision.

“We have immense respect for Mahanta but it’s our appeal to the government to select another plot for his cremation,” former president of the Mahasabha Bhadra Krishna Goswami said.

By the time the controversy began, the district administration had already prepared a cremation ground.

Following the controversy, it hurriedly chose another spot, which is just 15 metres from the previous one.

What the district administration did to keep itself away from the controversy was making of a new road to take the body of the singer to the cremation ground and with an assurance of separating the cremation ground by erecting a wall around it.

Sources said a statue of legendary singer Bhupen Hazarika could not be set up in front of the Kalakshetra as a section opposed the plan arguing that it would be showing disrespect to Xankardeb, who opposed idol worship.

Xatradhikar of Gormur Xatra in Majuli, the Brahmaputra island and centre of Xattriya culture, too, expressed the same objection regarding Mahanta’s cremation ground.

Two excavators were used to construct the road next to the Kalakshetra campus to take Mahanta’s body for his last rites.

Ashutosh Agnihotri, deputy commissioner of Kamrup (M) said the plot of government land was formally allotted to the Kalakshetra and had been lying unused.

Sources said the administration was earlier planning to perform the last rites after Mahanta’s family expressed willingness for the same. Chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who visited Mahanta’s home hours after his demise yesterday, announced that the government would decide on the plot for his last rites after consultation with his family. As the plot was finalised around noon, Lokendra Choudhury, a fan of Mahanta from Digaru, donated sandalwood for his cremation to pay his tribute to the Bihu Xomrat (king of Bihu).

Kamrup (Metro) district administration officials said they would work out a project soon for construction of a memorial after Khagen Mahanta, on the lines of music maestro Bhupen Hazarika. Hazarika was cremated near Gauhati University but the memorial there is yet to complete.