Two Unique Satras of Majuli (largest river Island in the world), Assam: My Observations

This article is about two Satras (Religious places) from Majuli, a district in Assam, the most beautiful and largest river Island in the world. In this article, I intend to present cases of two Satras out of many Satras in Majuli. Satras are indigenous social institutional centres mainly associated with the Ekasarana tradition of Vaishnavism. Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev initiated establishing Satra institutions to fulfil the religious 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’.
The Satra consists of a large prayer hall facing a simple shrine, surrounded by dormitories and bathing tanks for monks known as ‘Bhakats’. In many Satras, Bhakats cannot marry (strictly bachelors), known as ‘Udakhain Vaishnav’. They themselves stay on the premises of Satras and eat by self-cooking. Sometimes, one person cooks for some other ‘Udakhain Vaishnavs’. In this article, cases of two Satras are presented. Both are unique in their own ways. It is pertinent to mention that the author visited the Satras on December 13, 2023, and held discussions with the monks/Bhakats of the Satras. It is noteworthy to mention that the head of the Satra is known as Satradhikari.
Dakhsinpath Satra: This is one of the oldest Satras of Assam, established in 1654 by Satradikhar Sri Sri Banamali Dev Goswmi under the patronization of Ahom King Jayadhwaj Singha. This Satra is worth witnessing during the festival of ‘Raslila’ (associated with Bhagawan Sri Krishna). In this Satra in addition to the Puja room and Namghar (where devotees sit and chant devotional songs), there is a museum; when the author visited on December 13, 2023, came to know that many items of Ahom Kings, such as golden pots, big metallic dishes, silver utensils, beetle nut cutting instruments, etc., would be preserved in a museum under UNESCO tags (already the works have been done). The items are kept in a normal room with a lock and key. During the visit, a ‘Udakhain Vaishnav’ of Satra Sri Naren Kataky (81 years old) was contacted for the information. According to him, 80 ‘Udakhain Vaishnavs’ live on this campus, and rooms are available. More than 11 lakh disciples under the Satra live in different areas of Assam. These disciples lead normal lives by marrying, etc. Sri Kataky informed that there are four tea gardens and some lands under this Satra (a total of 7,000 acres of land). Earnings from all these sources are used for different activities of Satras, including for maintenance of 80 ‘Udakhin Vaishnavs.’ Also, he informed that the minimum age of a ‘Udakhin Vaishnav’ in the Satra was 11 years, and the maximum age was 83 years.

Chamaguri Satra: Chamaguri Satra is one of the attractions of Majuli. The Satra is considered an important centre of art and cultural and classical studies. This Satra is a leading institution where old craftsmanship, such as mask making and training in cane and bamboo items, are taught. The author had interacted with Sri Prasanna Goswami, who was one of the members of the Satra and competent to make masks, informed that in earlier days, by wearing masks, dramas were performed to educate people about the importance of religions and other issues. And still masks (made of clay) are made, which have high demand in the national and international markets. Further, Sri Goswami said anyone under the Satra need not be a bachelor, which means they can marry and lead normal lives. That is, the ‘Udhakhin Vaishnav’ concept is not applicable here.
I have shared my observations so that readers can understand the two Satras. I suggest readers visit Majuli as this is a different place with pollution-free, environmentally friendly, and amicable people. The people know English, Hindi, Assamese and the local tribal language. Further, fresh vegetables and fresh fish are available. Many of us live in the ‘Concrete jungle,’ so Majuli is different. When I visited, I found some ladies from France and Germany were also present in one Satra, and they appreciated Majuli and Satras, which were new to them.
Prof Shankar Chatterjee, Hyderabad

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