The 19th century Renaissance in India had greatly influenced Odisha. On the other hand, Odisha’s Renaissance was different because it bloomed from a very rural set up being uninfluenced by any western education. In thought and expression, it emerged in its own unique way in the form of Mahima Dharma. Through simple doctrines it projected many complicated theories. It raised voice against Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and other Brahmanical religious faiths. Mahima Dharma appeared in the early part of 19th century A.D. as a religion in the Hindu reform movement. The founder of this dharma was Mahima Gosain. By the efforts of Bhima Bhoi, the blind poet, it was spread in the nook and corner of Odisha. Gradually, by the efforts of the monks of this dharma it found its way to Bengal, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.
Founder of Mahima Dharma
Mahima Dharma was founded by Mahima Swami or Mahima Gosain. He reached Puri around 1826 from where he started Mahimabada. He slept on sand and so people called him ‘Dhulia Gosain’. He carried discussion on Non-Dualism with the Pandits of Mukti Mandapa inside the Jagannath temple and opposed the idol-worship. He lived at Udaygiri, Khandagiri, Dhauli and at last reached Kapilas in the Dhenkanal district. He wore the bark of Kumbhi tree. Bhagirathi Mahindra Bahadur, the king of Dhenkanal sent milk for him early in the morning.
Mahima Gosain made Govinda Das as his first disciple and gradually many disciples including the great Biswanath Baba were created. Bhima Bhoi of Rairakhol become his disciple.Through his great literary creation like Stuti Chintamani, Brahmanirupana Gita, Nirveda Sadhana, Chautisa Madhuchakra, Adyanta Gita, Astakabihari Gita etc., he popularised the Mahima Cult. From 1862 to 1867 Mahima Dharma spread like wild fire in the nook and corner of Odisha. Mahima Gosain breathed his last in 1867. The disciples of Mahima Gosain became famous as Mahima monks Alekha sanyasi.
Bhima Bhoi and Mahima Dharma
The great saint Bhima Bhoi played a key role for the spread of Mahima Dharma. He was born in 1855 at Rairakhol in Kondh family. His father was Dhaneswar Bhoi and mother was Gauri. Bhima Bhoi was born-blind. However, historians differ from each other on this question. By coming in contact with Mahima Gosain, Bhima got insight or direct knowledge and was indoctrinated by him. After being an Abadhut it is not known whether Bhima Bhoi stayed in Rairakhol or came to Joranda. Still then, it is sure that he spent a long time in Joranda and tried to popularize Mahima Cult. He composed many songs which were liked by the people and they were automatically attracted towards the Mahima Cult. Of course, the rival sects spoke ill of Bhima and tried to prevent the spread of Mahima Cult. Bhima was determined to spread the Mahima cult. His immortal creations included ‘Stuti Chintamani’, ‘Shrutinisedha Gita’, ‘Brahmaniruoana Gita’, Adyantagita’, ‘Chautisa Madhuchakra’, ‘Nirveda Sadhana’ etc. He died in 1895 at Khariapali village in Sonepur. Actually his efforts popularised the Manima Cult in the nook and comer of Odisha.
Doctrines of Mahima Dharma
The doctrines of Mahima Dharma are given bellow:
1. Doctrine of Monotheism
Believing in one god was the principle of Mahima Gosain. He preached his doctrine in Odia language. His idea found expression through the writings of Bhima Bhoi, who expressed it very lucidly and placidly. The teachings of Mahima Gosain bore no influence of other religion. In its own way the Mahima cult spread its fragrance everywhere and allured the attention of the people of Odisha and outside.
2. Principle of Non-Dualism
The Mahima cult urges for pure Non-Dualism. According to it, God is one and next to none. He is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. He is the supreme soul and the cause of the creation of the world. He is also without form (Nirakara), unexpressable (Avyakta), without body(Adeha), without name (Anama), without any feeling (Nirvikara) and supreme God (Paramesvara). He is present starting from the insect to the man. Equality is his motto and casts equal eye on everybody. Teacher or Guru occupies a pivotal position in the teachings of Mahima Gosain. A teacher or Guru can show the path of Salvation. Without him practice of dharma is meaningless. He can show path to a disciple and guide him for attaining Salvation. Bhima Bhoi has mentioned that without the grace of Mahima Gosain, he would not have realised the God. Thus, Guru occupies high place among the Avadhuta monks.
3. Theory of Creation of the universe
About the „Theory of Creation’ Mahima Gosain has given his own view. By the mixing of atom, Purusa and Prakriti, this world is not created. It has been created by the Alekha Prabhu. He is pure and without any vice. He is the root of all creations and causes. Hence, he should be worshipped as the creator of the universe.
4. Rejection of image worship
Mahima Dharma was against idol worship. Like Buddhism and Jainism, Mahima dharma raised voice against the superstitions of Brahmanism. He prescribed only one course of worship to the Alekha. He denied the worship different idols and rejected it. So, only formless Brahma is to be worshipped. Without him, if one worships any idol, he resorts to falsehood.
5. Opposition to caste system
This Dharma was against the caste system in the society and raised voice against the caste system in Odisha. It never distinguished between men and women, higher caste and lower caste, rich and poor and so on. The wise men never differentiate among caste, creed and sex. On the other hand, they try to maintain harmony and peace among the people. So, Mahima Dharma never put any constraint for the worship of God. Only through devotion God can be attained by everybody. Everyone is competent to worship God and attain him.
Mahima Dharma believed in the principle of Vasudhaivakutumbakam. The Mahima doctrine conceived the whole universe as a single family and desires the welfare of all. Happiness for all and peace to all is the motto of Mahima dharma. Even, the life of one may be tinged with sorrows and sufferings but he should pray for the happiness of others. There lies the true humanity. This gospel found its fullest expression in the words of Bhima Bhoi as “Let my life go to hell but the world may be rescued.”220.127.116.11. Principle of satsanga or common meal for all Another notable feature of Mahima Dharma was ‘Common meal for all’ or Satsanga Gosthi. This was started by Mahima Swami himself who started it at Kashipur in Dhenkanal to show that “all souls are equal, because they worship the one Brahman.” The food for all was prepared by the household devotees under the open sky and it was taken together by all.
Rule of Bisuddhaadvaita Brahumavada
It was essentially a Bhakti Cult whose philosophy is Visuddha-advaita Brahmaveda. It was close affinity with Advaita Vada of Samkaracharya which advocates exclusively Jnana as the only means to salvation. Thus, it is clear that there is no antagonism between Jnana and Bhakti in Mamma Dharma. Bhakti in Mahima Dharma means the attraction of the pure mind towards the ultimate truth- the Parama Brahma. Bhakti is to be guided by Jnana. Otherwise it is likely to miss true its true object. Mahima Dharma says that lover God is pure and the lover wants to unite with God.
Importance on ethical codes for the householders
The Mahima Dharma has always given importance on the values of life. In order to get rid of these entire falsehood one should keep divine qualities in himself. It emphasized that one should cultivate qualities like love, compassion, tranquility etc. in one’s mind which will bring fullness of heart. The Mahima Cult prescribed certain ethical codes for the householders. It preached about the entertainment of guests as per the best Doctrines for householder‟s capacity of a householder. One should leave meat and harmful goods. A householder should be simple and should leave anger, arrogance, pride and good moral character. Mahima dharma laid emphasis on Brahma darshana, Trividha Sarana and other religious performances for householders.
Last Line to Say
Mahima Dharma had stimulated the social and religious life of the people of Odisha in 19th century. This Mahima Dharmawas quite simple. The common men were attracted towards it because it was free from the ritualistic practices of the Brahmins. Though it arose in Odisha in 19th Century Renaissance but it was never influenced by the latter. In its doctrine it was quite different from other religious sects, uninfluenced and unbiased by the prevailing currents of time. The Mahima Dharma spontaneously in the nook and corner of Odisha and outside .
Credit: Inputs from History of Odisha From 1803 to 1948 by Dr Manas Kumar Das