The name may not sound familiar to maximum hindus, even those in Bengal. Harichand Thakur was born on 11th March, 1811 in Safaldanga village of Gopalgunj, East Bengal, which was a part of the Bengal Presidency at that time. He belonged to a Namashudra (lowest rung of the Hindu caste order) community. His grandfather, Manchanram Biswas was a devout Vaishnavite and was thus, known as Thakur Manchanram. The Thakur title, given to them was adapted by his father, Jashomanto Biswas who discarded the Biswas surname for the Thakur title. The family earned a living through farming.
It is well known that the British, in pursuance of their ‘Divide and Rule’ policy placed their stooges in the ranks of zamindars or feudal lords in significant territories, who formed a coterie with some members of the Brahmin community to unleash a reign of terror on the lower castes. The intention was to woo them away from hinduism, as was desired by their British masters. They were successful in their mission of getting a host of such lower caste hindus to convert to Iz-lam or X-tianity.
But all hindus were not unfaithful to their faith and wished to carry on following the hindu tradition. The Namashudra community of East Bengal were one of those communities, who were persecuted by such British stooge and their pets. The persecution reached it’s pinnacle and Harichand Thakur’s family was ousted from their home and hearth at Safaldanga so that they were compelled to settle down at Orakandi, currently located in Bangladesh.
Harichand Thakur had visions of himself as being the saviour and protector of his persecuted community of Namashudras and started working for their upliftment and betterment. His impact and influence on them was so much that the community members believed that he possessed miraculous powers to rescue them from the hands of their tormentors. He was like a living deity for them and they started addressing him as Sri Sri Harichand Thakur, the adage signifying divinity. Sri Sri Harichand felt that bonding and unity were of utmost important for the community in order to resist and counter any form of attacks on them and also for ensuring their general well being. This inspired him to found the Matua sect of Vaishnavite Hindus and the Matua Mahasangha was formed at Orakandi.
Sri Sri Harichand Thakur’s teachings were based on twelve principles – (i) Always be truthful (ii) Treat women as a form of a mother and respect them (iii) Always respect your parents (iv) Treat your neighbours and all earthly beings with love, pity, and kindness (v) Never indulge in racist discriminate (vi) Control the six passions (our very own internal enemies or ‘Shararipu’) of Lust, Anger, Greed, Infatuation, Pride and Jealousy. (vii) Remain liberal to all other religions and creeds (a secular tenet which was relevant in the early 19th century, given the socio-economic scenario of that period) (viii) Be honest in mind and activities and avoid saintly dress to adorn yourself with (ix) Perform your duties devotedly and utter the sacred Haribol chant and pray to God simultaneously (x) Build a temple of pure thoughts in your heart and soul and a temple of Shree Hariparameshwar in your home (xi) Pray daily to God with devotion and sanctity (xii) Sacrifice yourself for the cause of God.
What made him distinct from the other hindu religious preachers and seers was that he didnot subscribe to the idea of delineating a preacher or saint either by a specific kind of attire, identifying one as as saint or by prescribing celibacy and renouncing all worldly pleasures. It is not necessary to remain unmarried or sever family ties to attain Nirvana – he stated.
‘Grihete thakiya jar hay bhaboday. Sei je param sadhu janio nishchay’. According to him, the best ascetic was the person who never let go of his devotion to God while remaining a family man. His wife, Jagat Mata Shanti Mata was also worshipped along with him. He was a karmayogi, who believed that one should not deviate from the path of Karma and should carry on with their own task while singing paens to the Supreme Being. He also felt that initiation by a religious guru (Diksha) or Tirth Yatra (pilgrimage ) were not required to seek God, the same can be done by chanting His name from the comfort of one’s own home.
Sri Sri Harichand Thakur breathed his last at Faridpur, Bangladesh in 1878. Though, his initial followers were Namashudras, leter on the other communities too, followed. With the passage of time, even the upper cast hindus became his followers.
His ideas were quite revolutionary, progressive and absolutely out of the box, specially in those times, when caste politics ruled various parts of our country, courtesy the British. Hence his popularity and reverence amongst the commoners was also quite high. His son Guruchand Thakur is also a much revered saint amongst the Matua community.
His grandson, Advocate Pramatha Ranjan Thakur settled in West Bengal in 1947 along with his wife, Binapani Devi, lovingly addressed as Baroma by one and all, and members of the Matua sect. The Matua community, after years of persecution and neglect, had always tried to remain close to the powers that be, initially the Congress, then then Left and then the TMC, for realization of their rights. But they never deviated from their faith. Currently, the community, which is of utmost political significance in being the deciding factors in government formation, are close to the BJP. Our hon’ble PM, Modiji had developed an affinity with Baroma and the community. Today, he would be addressing the nation at 9PM to commemorate the Janmatithi or Abirbhab Divas of Sri Sri Harichand Thakur, virtually. West Bengal CM, Mamata Banerjee also doesnot wish to lose out in the race for gaining Matua empathy and had declared Sri Sri Harichand Jayanti as a state holiday from last year.
The Central Minister for Shipping, Santanu Thakur is the grandson of P. R. Thakur & Baroma and is a direct descendants of Sri Sri Harichand Thakur. The abode of the Thakur family in West Bengal was named Thakurnagar in their honour.
Let us pay our Tribute to this Hindu saint with a difference, Sri Sri Harichand Thakur, on his Janmatithi.. 🙏🙏