Cases of Two Satras from Majuli Island of Assam

Date:

(Dr Shankar Chatterjee, Hyderabad )

All rational human beings are involved with many activities, including spiritual activity, which many practice in different forms.  It is pertinent to mention that spirituality offers a worldview that suggests there is something greater that connects all beings to each other and to the universe itself. It may involve religious traditions centering on the belief in a higher power. It can also involve a holistic belief in an individual connection to others and the world as a whole. I have observed all religions’ (spiritual activities) basic teaching and preaching inter alia are a brotherhood and help each other for blissful and peaceful living.

In India, for spiritual activities in different religions, different institutions function. India is a country where all religions can be found, which many foreigners told me while I visited some countries as a resource person. India is home to the world’s most impressive religious diversity. Four of the world’s major religions have been originated in India: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

In Assam, Satra is a famous institution for spiritual activities. Satra is a special indigenous social, institutional center mainly associated with the Ekasarana tradition of Vaishnavism. Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev pioneered the establishment of ‘Satras institutions’ to fulfill the spiritual and socio-cultural needs of the people. The word ‘Satra’ originates in the Bhagavata Purana in the Sanskrit term ‘Sattra,’ meaning ‘an assembly of devotees’.

In this article, I am presenting the cases of two Satras located at Majuli, which is the largest river island on the river Brahmaputra in Assam. Majuli is a lush, green, environment-friendly, and pollution-free freshwater island in the Brahmaputra, Assam, which is around 15 kilometers from Jorhat city and 390 kilometers from Guwahati city. Majuli had an area of 1250 square kilometers initially. Due to erosion, the area has declined to about 880 square kilometers.

 Majuli is also a strong contender for a place in the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. The main festival is ‘Raas,’ a religious festival associated with Sri Krishna Bhagwan.

Case 1) Sri Sri Garamur Satra: This Satra was established in 1656 at Majuli. To get an idea about the Satra, I visited on December 12, 2023, and interacted with Satradhikari (Head of the Satra) Sri Paramananda Deva Goswami, who, at the age of 15 years, joined the Satra. Since he was a Satradhikari, he didn’t marry, but other devotees under the Satra can marry. Sri Deva Goswami informed that more than 10 lakh devotees are members of the Satra who stay in different places of Assam.  The Satra has around 19 acres of land, so from the revenue earned from the land, Satra’s regular activities are performed. I felt very happy when I interacted with a young saint of 24 years who was fully devoted to spiritual activities.

Case 2) Sri Sri Uttar Kamalabari Satra: Sri Sri Uttar Kamalabari Satra was established in 1673 by Padma Ata.  He established this Satra in the orange garden, so it was named Kamalabari because ‘Kamala’ means orange and ‘bari’ means garden in Assamese.

It is believed that the ‘Satriya Dance,’ which was later recognized as a classical dance form of Assam, originated from this Satra. Further, this Satra has been a centre of art, culture, literature, and classical studies. In the premises, there is a museum, the residence of Satradhikari (head of the Satra), and the residence of others. Satradhikari is the head of the Satra, and others who stay are known as Bhakats. Bhakats are responsible for different types of activities, such as administrative, maintenance, religious and cultural, etc. It is pertinent to mention that all Bhakats are bachelors (no question of marriage) and strictly vegetarian. They are known as ‘Udakhin Vaishnav.’ No women are allowed to be ‘Udakhin Vaishnav’. So, it is evident that ‘Bhakats’ have sacrificed their materialistic lives for the welfare of society.

  I have given an idea here about the Satras, as I visited the places, so that readers can get an idea in this regard.

(The author is a former Professor & Head (CPME),NIRD & PR ( Govt. of India), Hyderabad)

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