Mithila

Saurath

This village is situated in the Mithila region of Bihar. Metahistory makes it unique. Originally named Saurastra, literally a cultural and intellectual centre of sau-rastra, nations associated with Janaka, the ancient king of Mithila, whose name finds mention in the Ramayana epic. Tradition has it that the svayambara (self-chosen form of marriage) of Janaka’s daughter, Sita, took place in this village. The presiding God of this village is Somanath.

A unique groom selection fair at Saurath in Madhubani district of Bihar, India, which lasted for nine days. This traditional fair used to attract a large number of people well about 15 years ago. But these days, people from the Maithili Brahmins are no longer interested in participating in the match fixing fair because of the changing social perception.

The legend has it that a groom uses to sit in a specially decorated stage in a traditional custom and let the bride observe him closely. And if the bride side is satisfied with the groom’s appearance and physical fitness, a documentation officer examines whether or not they have any kinship relations during the last seven generations of the both sides.

There is an interesting parallel between the Somnath of village Saurath (Saurastra) in Mithila and the Somnath of the Saurastra region of Gujarat. The village people have an extraordinary ability to combine myth and history. As historical sources reveal, in AD 1025, Mohammed Ghazni attacked the famous temple of Somnath located on the western coast in the Saurastra region. He looted the fabulous wealth of the temple and destroyed it completely. From the imagined sources, it is known that Lord Somnath appeared in the dream of the two Maithil Brahman brothers, Bhagirathdutta Sharma and Gangadutta Sharma, and asked them to take His lingam away. The two brothers, following God’s instruction, went to Saurastra, brought the lingam to Saurath and kept Him in hiding for a long time. Later the lingam was duly enshrined.

In the 18th century a Maithil king constructed here the temple of Somnath. This village has another peculiarity. Almost every year, during suddha or auspicious days for the settling of marriages, thousands of Maithil Brahmans gather here. Such periodic meetings are called sabha, marriage mart. It is obligatory for every person desirous of marriage to get a certificate called asvajajanapatra (non-relationship) from a genealogist, stating that there is no “blood relationship” (as per the prescribed rules of prohibited degrees) between the two contracting parties. The institution of panjikar, genealogist, was led for the first time by Maharaja Harsimhadeva (AD 1296-1323) of the Karnat dynasty. In course of time genealogical records called utedhpothi assumed gigantic proportions, and it was felt necessary to make qualified genealogists available to people at certain appointed places throughout Mithila to facilitate marriages. Earlier, such marriage marts were held in 14 villages, viz. Saurath, Khamgadi, Partapur, Sheohar, Govindpur, Fattepur, Sajhaul, Sukhasaina, Akhrarhi, Hemanagar, Balua, Barauli, Samaul, and Sahsaula in North Bihar. In and about these villages lived eminent Sanskrit pandits who were authorities on matters relating to genealogy.

This kind of fair started during the 16th century during which the students who were educated in a hermitage would sit for debates to prove their academic excellence. Later on, this tradition, gradually converted into a groom selection fair, where bride’s parents would propose the best for marriage.

It was in 1620 when the Mithila king Hari Singh Dev started the tradition of documenting the genealogy among the Mithila brahmins.

According to linguist Dr Dhireshwor Dhirendra Jha, the practice of genealogy is based on scientific methods. Many people, however, cited so many reasons behind the declining trend of participating in the fair.

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