Recently I came across two thought provoking articles on the Vrindavani Vastra. A recent one by Bimal Phookan in an Assamese daily and the other by D N Bezboruah years ago and now available online. Both are against the enthusiasm of bringing back the Vastra to Assam for different reasons.
Bimal Phookan is skeptical about the time of production of the Vastra . Though in Assam it is believed that Sankardeva had conceptualized and got it done in the sixteenth century but Richard Blurton, the curator of British museum feels that the scientific research done on the Vastra indicates that it was produced in the seventeenth century.
D N Bezboruah believes that we in Assam are not equipped to preserve the Vastra produced centuries ago.
While trying to gather information on the Vastra I found it difficult to connect the dots fully.
- Vaishnavite literature ( Kotha Guru Charit) clearly talks about Vrindavani Vastra which depicts the life of childhood Krishna. The primary focus of Vaishnavite literature is more on spiritual lines and less on historical objectivity. Guru Charita states that Sankardeva gifted the Vastra to Narnarayan, the Coochbehar king
- Guru Charit further states that the weavers of Kamrup assembled at Tantikuchi (Barpeta) under the leadership of Mathura Das Burha Ata (Gopal Tanti) and completed the task of making the Vrindavani Vastra.
- Mathurdas Burha Ata was a disciple of Madhavdeva and his interaction with Sankardeva is difficult to be traced in Vaishnavite literature.
- Mathuradas Burha Ata lived for over hundred fifty years (does not seem to be true).
- British journalists found the Vastra in Tibet in a Buddhist monastery and brought it to England in 1904 and at that time they had no clue that it was the Vrindavani Vastra produced in Assam.
- Subsequently Richard Blurton and Rosemary Crill, curators of British museum established through intense research that the Vastra was produced in Assam by weavers inspired by the Vaishnavite movement of Sankardeva.
Barpeta or Assam is no more a centre of excellent weaving practices today. For us it is difficult to imagine that our forefathers had such innovative talents to draw attention of art lovers across the world.
As Mathura Das Burha Ata believed to have lived in the seventeenth century also, it is possible that the Vastra might have been produced in the seventeenth century. Vaishnavite literature suggests that Bir Naryan , the Coochbehar king and grandson of Narnarayan visited Barpeta in the seventeenth century and met with Mathura Das Burha Ata.
Coochbehar kingdom lost control and came under Bhutan king in the eighteenth century for a short duration. We also know that Coochbehar had flourishing business links with Tibet via Bhutan. But how the Vrindavani Vastra reached Tibet does not seem to be documented anywhere. Perhaps historians from Assam and royal family of Coochbehar should work on this for more details.
I also fail to share the enthusiasm of bringing back Vrindavani Vastra to Assam. For centuries we could not locate the Vastra. The rich tradition of weaving is also extinct now. We are only dependent on British Museum authorities to feel proud about our heritage.
I also do not know whether we as a society conveyed our gratitude to the British authorities for the good work done by them in preserving our cultural heritage.