Mahima Dharma came into being in mid-19th century in Odisha and its founder Mahima Swami or Mahima Gosain was a great mystic.
Birth of Mahima Gosain
There are no correct historical records available on the birth or place of birth of Mahima Gosain even today. However, sources said Gosain had appeared in Puri in 1826. He came across in a saffron loincloth and matted hair. As he was seen sleeping on bare road, he was known as "Dhulia Gosain". According to the followers of this cult, he was God incarnate for them.
Time at Puri, Khandagiri & Kapilas
It is said he had spent the early part of his life in the Himalayas and later came down to Puri. While in Puri, he lived on only water and, therefore, was called ‘Nirahari Baba’. After spending his time in the Holy Town, Gosain came to Khandagiri in Bhubaneswar. During his stay in Puri, he had propagated the theory of Advaitabada which means God is one there is no more than one God.
In 1838, he reached Kapilas in Dhenkanal district and spent 24 years in deep meditation. During this period, he put on the bark of Kumbhi tree. On the 14th day of bright moon in the month of Magha, Gosain had founded the Mahima cult.
Journey to Joranda
In 1874 he realized that his time to go back to the absolute void was near. He started for his headquarters at Joranda in Dhenkanal district known as Mahima Gadi or seat of Mahima Gosain. He gave up his mortal frames on his own accord in 1876 on the 14th day of the bright fortnight of Phalguna (February-March). This is how Joranda became the main centre of Mahima followers.
A temple was constructed in his memory and a perennial fire was installed at the shrine. The fire is still burning till today. His followers look upon the fire as a symbol of Brahma. Sunya Mandir and Dhuni Mandir are scared places of this religion. Every initiate of this religion is made to drink cow urine first and then he has to visit the two temples.
Mahima Dharma is the only genuine anti-caste movement in the history of colonial Orissa with a strong non-Brahmin ideological orientation. This sect tried to set up an alternative social and moral order to the powerful and dominant Jagannath cult. Its followers championed the notions of social equality, anti-idolatry, anti-Brahmanism as its central themes.
The sect propounds the theory of monotheism or the concept of one God. It believes in the theory of equality of rights for all individuals on the ground that all of them worship the same god who has created them. It debunks the intermediaries of priests to realize Alekh or Anama or Anadi.
Attack on Srimandir
According to Utkal Dipika, Mahima followers had attacked Puri Jagannath temple on March 1 in 1881. However, their plans were foiled. There was a tussle between the followers and temple priests. It is said one was lynched in the melee. One Dasaram had led their team. But there was no record to prove whether Dasaram belonged to this cult.
Among its noted commentators are Bijay Chandra Mazumdar, Manmohan Chakravorty, Artaballabh Mohanty and Biswanath Baba. While Bijay Chandra has attributed its genesis to Jainism, Manmohan to both Buddhism and Jainism, Biswanath Baba has linked its root to Vedanta philosophy. Similarly, Artaballabh Mohanty has termed this sect as part of Odisha’s mainstream religious beliefs and culture. He has juxtaposed the Mahima Dharma’s monotheistic concept of one god with that of the Panchasakhas such as Jagannath, Achyutanand, Yasovant and Ananta.
The first disciple of Mahima Gosain was Govind Baba. Bhima Bhoi, the saint and mystic poet of Odisha is believed to be the second disciple of Mahima Gosain. During his stay on Kapilas hill, Govind Baba became his disciple and he renounced his name Jagannath. He assumed the name of Govinda Das Baba. He renounced his parentage, place of birth and age to be with Gosain Baba. Mahima Gosain gave him the title of Abadhuta when he attained Siddhi or perfection.
It was Bhima Bhoi who reflected the essence of Mahima Dharama through his writings. It is learnt that Mahima Gosain met Bhima Bhoi in 1862. On the direction of Mahima Gosain, Bhima Bhoi depicted the basic teachings of Mahima Dharma in his poems such as Stuti Chintamani, Bhajan Mala and Adi Anta Gita.
The followers of Mahima Gosain used to offer prayers under open sky. The prayer is mainly offered twice in the morning and once in evening during Brahma muhurtas.
While offering prayers, the followers lift their hands above their head and prostrate in certain manner uttering theglory of Alekh. The postures are repeated for seven times. The same postures are adopted five times during evening prayer.
By Dr Bijayalaxmi Dash, Ravenshaw University