Namghar - The prayer house of Assam

Namghar in Assam
Assamese Prayer House, Namghar
Namghar of assam

Naamghar is a community prayer hall where the Hindus of Assam recite the name of God. It was a unique creation of Srimanta Sankardeva, the great poet saint of Assam. He established the first Naamghar at Bordowa in Nagaon district. In the Assamese language, 'Naam' means prayer and 'Ghar'  means house. Hence, it is called Naamghar. Some of the officials of Naamghar are Medhi, Bujandar, Bayan, Namgharia, Bilonia, etc. They are held in high esteem and are respected by the people. A Naamghar is not only a place of worship, but is also a centre of learning, an institution for imparting education, a community hall where people gather to discuss their social problems, a training centre of arts and crafts and above all, a centre of unity of the society. Namghars are also used for cultural activities associated a social congregation like Bhaona (drama) and dances.

The Namghar is usually a rectangular building with a gable, gablet or a hip roof raised on pillars the length of which is aligned in the east-west direction. The traditional thatch roof has been replaced in the late 20th century by corrugated tin sheets, and the timber or bamboo pillars by concrete ones. This hall usually has an outer wall, with the main entrance at the west end. There is a verandah around the outer wall, with windows and minor entrances on the north and south sides. Two parallel rows of pillars usually run along the length, with the northeast most pillar, called the lai khuta, carrying special significance. The floor is traditionally mud, replaced in recent times by concrete.

Primarily used as a prayer hall according to the Ekasarana traditions. Devotees sit in rows not facing the east but north and south facing each other that emphasizes the bhakat (the worshiper, or the congregation) which is one of the four reals of the religion. The region between the two north and south group is highly sanctimonious and is never treaded on, except for cleaning. The prayers are led by the leader called naam loguwa, who sits at the end of the central region facing the sanctum sanctorum.

The west end of the hall does not in general have doors and windows, though very often it leads to an independent room called MANIKUT (the jewel hut), also called bhajghar in western Assam, with its own roof. It houses idols representing the worshipful god, or a guru-asana (the guru's seat). It is fully walled, with either no windows or small ones and also function as a repository of important articles. This room is a later addition to the basic namghar structure.

The Namghors rarely have food service in the manner one sees in temples elsewhere in India. The mah-saul, or the fruit and soaked green lentil offerings, that are distributed after a service are almost always prepared at several homes, who are eligible to participate in food-serving. Those who serve food are called deus or deuris and are selected based on their standing in the community and religious knowledge and competence. This too is a privileged position. Therefore there never were kitchens/pantries associated with Namghors although this may be changing.

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