Saurath Sabha- A unique Marriage market

The unique institution of Saurath Sabha Gachhi

There is a unique institution in Mithila, the  Saurath Sabha Gachchhi (Sabha means congregation and Gachchhi mean orchard in Maithili), a kind of fair whose sole purpose is to bring together Brahmins from all over Mithila to negotiate marriages for their sons and daughters.It is famous for being the place where thousands of Maithil Brahaman converged to fix marriage during marriage season.Among the Maithil Brahmins, the marriage is negotiated either at the Saurath sabha or at the home of the concerned bridegroom, which is called as gharkatha.
According to Bodha Krishna, the origins of the Saurath Sabha — the only surviving sabha — go back about 220 years, when his ancestors settled in Saurath and introduced the practice. In older days, Maharaja Lakshmishwar Singh of Darbhanga had great interest in the arrangements of the Sabha held at Saurath .The Maharaja accompanied Munshi Peary Lal to the famous Saurath Sabha in 1876 and in both the Sabhas of Asadh and Aghan of 1877, he supervised the workings of the Sabha alongwith the subdivisional officer of Madhubani, GA Grierson.

Sourath, a village 5 km from Madhubani, with its grove extending to 10 acres of land, starts bubbling with activity in marriage season
every year when the Maithili Brahmins assemble in a Sabha to negotiate and finalise the marriages of their sons and daughters. The fascinating sight of the grooms in a multitude of colours, sitting under the benign shade of large overflowing trees with their elders, patiently waiting for the prospective brides’ relations to start the negotiations, makes one feel as if they are on sale like any other commodity in a market.

Green, red or yellow foliage, groves and orchards of ripening lichees and mangoes, bananas and coconuts cultivated in fields hedged with bamboos together with its fertile soil yielding 3 harvests a year. Sourath Sabha is a matter of such convenience for the poor parents who must necessarily otherwise move about long distances entailing avoidable heavy expenses in search of suitable grooms for the daughters.

Sourath is heavily populated and the Maithils almost have the same regard for this place as any other place if pilgrimage. Mostly Maithil Brahmins live in this village. There was a time when Sourath was a very backward place with no road linkage and electric connection. People used to live in small hutments. But during the last decades this village has really come up. There are good roads and people have slowly and gradually built pucca houses with electrification. The Maithil Brahmins known for their scriptural rigidity and religious feelings assemble in thousands to settle marriages of their sons and grandsons with girls whom they have never seen. Though it gives the look of an animal fair, the Maithils call it a Sabha and orthodox among them consider marriages settled here as the best. During the Sabha this place gives a very festive look. 

The Sabha lasts for almost 10-12 days and in this period a large number of shops of different varieties spring up overnight
. Government makes special arrangements for transportation of people. Whereas the girl’s relatives go round the grove looking for a good boy, the boys generally accompanied with their fathers or grandfathers sit out under the shade of the tress or in the open on rolled out daris. As soon as the girls’ relatives spot out a handsome boy, they go and sit under the tree and start negotiation. 

There are Ghataks who have detailed discussion about the quality of brides and grooms. The final authority is the Panjikar(Chronicler) who maintains the family table of each Maithil Brahmin. In this locality there are five Panjikar families. It is their duty to ensure that the boy is not connected to the girl upto seven generations from his father’s side and five generations from his mother’s side. When a marriage is to be finalised, the Panjikar issues a decree on a palm leaf. It is written in that decree that such and such family will marry this girl of such family, and the marriage will be performed on a certain date. This is known as “Sidhant”. The elderly scholars come and bless the groom. After this the groom is taken by his people to the Shiva temple which is in the grove itself. There puja is offered and the blessings of the Lord are sought. Since early in the morning both the boys’ and girl’s parties throng the grove and the match making continues till almost midnight. Many people from many parts of the country go there to have a look of this Sabha.
A wannabe groom, waits for Lady Luck to smile on him
Picture courtesy:The Telegraph 

Boys are almost for sale. The groom’s party fixes up the bargain price whereas the bride’s party tries its best to get the price reduced. The bargaining goes on unabated in the marriage market like any other commodity market, through there is a definite move from small sections of people for the abolition of the dowry system who put up very attractive banners against it. They have been able to get very little success.

 Tradition has it that there was a time when Maithil Brahmins scholars used to assemble once a year to discuss different aspects of religion. Slowly and gradually their young disciples started accompanying them and as time passed on, the Gurus started selecting their disciples for their daughters also. This is how the match making tradition started and the Sabha has now converted itself from a scholastic assemblage to a marriage market.

 On a normal day almost 100 marriages are negotiated and finalised. As the closing day of the Sabha approaches, something like 200 marriages are finalised daily.

A boy can easily be identified by his colourful clothes and 

Saurath Sabha-dying a slow death

The marriage market of Sourath Sabha has been dying a slow death since the last few years. Mostly uneducated and unemployed boys had gathered up, whereas the Kanyagat, that is how a bride’s father is known as in the local language, wanted employed and well settled boys. This might be the reason for the very few number of marriages taking place in recent years.
radiant face. Tradition bound, he keeps on munching pan waiting expectantly for his prospective bride’s people to approach his people. Each morning be comes happily to the Sabha accompanied by his relatives expecting success, and it eludes his grasp, he returns down cast and morose midnight only to renew his efforts next day.

Even now if the Panjikars do not have the genealogical table of a family the Maithil Brahmins be it educated or uneducated they do not like to marry in such families. If a family goes in for an intercaste marriage the Panjikars stops keeping their family table and such families branch of from the main stream. 

The Panjikar’s presence is a must even in case of marriages settled in town, because unless he issues the Swajan Virjan Adhikar Patra popularly known as Sidhanta no marriage can take place. This is generally issued in a temple and not in the house of anyone.
  • Tourism Perspective in Bihar, Author Nishi Sinha,Publisher APH Publishing, 1999
  • Religious life of the Brahman: a case study of Maithil brahmans ,Author-Asim Maitra,PublisherInter-India Publications, 1986