SATRA Culture in Assam

  • What is a Satra-its origin-founder-importance and contribution to Assamese culture?

SATRA is a special indigenous social institutional centre, mainly associated with the Ekaharana tradition of Vaishnavism in the state of Assam. Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva and Sri Sri Madhabdeva, the two popular saints of Assam, established Satra institutions to fulfil the socio-cultural needs of the people.


The word ‘satra’ originates in the Bhagavata Purana in Sanskrit term ‘sattra’, meaning an assembly of devotees. During the period of Sankardeva, the devotees assembled in the open, under trees. Though temporary prayer houses were built, the tradition of devotees living in the premises did not happen during Sankardeva’s lifetime.


Satras are the result of Vaishnava movement of Assam. The Vaishnava movement or socio-cultural revolution was initiated throughout the whole of Assam during the 16th century under the spiritual leadership of Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhabdeva. Satras are the chief centre of Assamese culture.


Bhaona-sabha (general meeting related with bhauna), classical dance and music, art and culture, dramatic, performances are the main cultural activities of the Satras. Satriya sangeet, satriya nritya, satriya bhaona sabha (meeting), utsav (festive) etc. directly or indirectly influence the Assamese people. Satras also played a great role in the development of moral character and personality.


The Satras regularly celebrate Srikrishna Deul or Doul Utsab (Holi), Rash Yatra (a procession with clay deities of Sri Krishna and Radha which begins before the Rash Mela that is celebrated in the auspicious full moon night of Kartik month in honour of Sri Krishna and his eternal love Radha) etc. Satras preserve rare books relating to Sanatana Dharma.


The historic and auspicious ‘Monikanchan Sanjog’ was the first Satra in Majuli. Subsequently, 65 satras grew which propagated ethnic and sociocultural ideals. At present there are only 22 Satras in Majuli. The rest have shifted to other safer places due to flood and erosion. 


These Satras are the treasure house of ‘Borgeet’ (songs composed by Sankardeva and Madhabdeva), Mati Akhara (exercise done on the ground), Jumura dance (one kind of dance), Sutradhar (the special person, the anchor, who talks or narrates the story or some part of story to the audience), Ozapali (a unique traditional folk dance form of Assam which  combines three art forms - Song, Dance and Drama), Apsara dance (classical dance form), Satria Krishna dance, Dasavatar dance (das means ten and avatar means incarnation; thus, dasavatar dance means dance of ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu) etc. which were contributed by Shri Sankardeva.


During the Vaishnavite movement the society and social trend of Assam became completely ‘Satra Centric’. The general people and family of the kings helped in the development of Satra institutions. The Ahom king, during the 16th century, had donated land for establishment of the Satras to develop and spread Vaishnava religion and culture.

A Satra is maintained and administered by its leader called ‘Satradhikar’. Though the Satradhikar (the head of the Satra) was the pivot of the management of the Satra, Ahom rulers appointed one officer on special duty to look after the management of the Satra. He was named as ‘Satra Baruah’. Through such steps the royal authority took initiative in the spread of religion, education and culture amongst the general people of Assam. The religious disciples got education and instruction under the Satradhikar for living the ideal life of Vaishnaba (worshipper of Lord Vishnu). The Vaishnavas learnt simplicity, nobility, tolerance, obedience, sincerity and other moral virtues and values under the ‘Guru’. 

Ras Mahotsav Festival Majuli 2018. U see Sri Krishna playing flute. 

Sankardeva and his times are known as the ‘Golden age’ of Assamese literature and culture. There are three types of Satras in Assam i.e. Mahapurushia or Sanker-Madhab Satra, Damodaria Satra (the Satras that founded by Damodar Deva) and Harideva Satra (founded by Harideva). There are so many Satra institutions in different places of Assam. They are Kamalabari Satra, Dakhinpat Satra, Garamur Satra, Auniati Satra, Bengena Ati Satra, Patbausi Satra, Borpeta Satra, Bordua Satra, Dhuahat Beloguri Satra etc. Some are described here - 


Kamalabari Satra

One of the most influential Satra of Assam is Kamalabari Satra, situated in Majuli Island and established in 1595. It was founded by Padma Ata, also known as Badala Ata, a disciple of Madhabadeva. Padma Ata established this Satra in the orange garden in Majuli and it was named as Kamalabari because kamala means orange and bari means garden in Assamese.


It is from Kamalabari that Sattriya Dance got its popularity. Later this dance got the status of a classical dance form of Assam. Kamalabari Satra is a centre of art, cultural, literature and classical studies for years and to this day.


This Satra has produced many great figures in Assam in the culture sector. It is also popular for crafting beautiful boats and designing sculptures of mythological characters. Its branch, ‘Uttar Kamalabari Satra’ has performed cultural programmes of Satria Art in India and abroad.


Patbaushi Satra

This Satra was established by Srimanta Sankardeva. His Vaishnava faith was spread by his able disciples Shri Madhabdeva, Shri Damodar Deva and Shri Hari Deva. It was from this Satra that Sankardeva spread his faith, literature, music, art-forms, culture and work-culture to the fullest form.


Here, the Guru spent 18 years of his life with remarkable achievements including completion of the ‘Kirtan Ghosa’ (collection of poetical works, primarily composed by Srimanta Sankardev meant for community singing in the Ekasarana Dharma) and composition of 240 numbers of invaluable Borgeets (devotional song composed by Sankardeva).


Some of the items used by these Gurus and Sachipat Puthis (Sachipat is an ancient technique of writing Manuscript, the barks of the Sachi tree as thin as a leaf usually used to writing scripts and Puthis means books. So, Sachipat puthis means the books those were written by that ancient technique) are well preserved here.


Of late the State government has taken steps for the preservation of these treasures of Assam’s heritage. It is planning to set up a Shrimanta Sankardeva Museum on the premises of the Satra. The Damodar Deva Satra is also located in the same premises. Ahom Ruler Paramatta Singha constructed a Math in memory of the saint. This Satra is about 2 km from Barpeta town.

Barpeta Satra

Sri Madhabdeva founded the Barpeta Satra and stayed here for eight years. He appointed Sri Mathura Das Burha Ata as the first Satradhikar of the Satra. It was Burha Ata who systematised the administration of the Satra which lead to development of the institution and the region of Barpeta. Large number of followers came to Barpeta, from all sections of society and accepted Vaishnava faith.


The Satra has several buildings. The front gate is called ‘Batsora’ (entry gate). The main ‘Kirtanghar’ (main prayer hall) is where prayers or ‘Naam Kirtan’ are performed. It is an architectural splendour. All the Bhaktas or ‘Devotees’ discuss all kinds of problems in the Jogmohan Ghar (a special house).

Prayer hall or Kirtanghar.

In the ‘Bhajghar’, a lamp is continuously burning for more than 400 years. It is called ‘Akhay Banti’ (earth lamp continuously lighten up more than 400 years). Sri Krishna Doul festival is organised on the premises of Doul Ghar (a unique design of building which is mainly for keeping the Kalia Thakur (Sri Krishna) on the time of Doul (holi) festival. There is a small zoo and garden too. 


Within the premises a cultural school, Shri Mathura Das Burha Ata Library, study-room, office and kitchen are also located. The Kirtan Ghar is considered to be the largest in Assam. The three Guru Asanas placed in the building are in honour of Shrimanta Sankardeva, Shri Madhabdeva and Shri Badula Ata.


The two Satradhikars sit behind the Asanas to hold Nam-Prasangas regularly. Numerous buildings are located within the premise covering an area of 20 Bighas. The Satra is situated in the heart of the city and attracts devotees from all over Assam especially during Holi when Doul (Holi) festival is organised and anniversaries of various Vaishnava Gurus.


Bengenaati Satra

It is a storehouse of antiques of cultural importance and an advanced centre of performing art. Murarideva, the grandson of Sankerdeva’s stepmother founded the Satra. The royal robes belong to the Ahom king Swargodeo Gadadhar Singha, made of gold and an umbrella, which is also made of gold, are preserved here.  


Auniati Satra

Situated in Majuli and established in 1653, it occupies a significant place among the Satras. It was founded by Niranjan Pathakdeva, a distinguished disciple of Vamshigopal.


This Satra is famous for ‘Paalnam’ (‘paal’ in Sanskrit means one after another, in English it means by turn and ‘nam’) means congregational prayer, chanting the name of God; so Paalnam means holding of incessant congregational prayer or chanting the name of God by the inmates of the Sattra in group and in rotation). It is also known for ‘Apsara Dance’ and its considerable collection of Assamese old utensils, jewellery and handicrafts.


To summarise it can be said Satra culture and institutions are the pride of Assam and have contributed immensely in the spread of education, art and culture. They are the centre point of ancient culture and tradition. The Satras have brought Assamese society on a common platform of religion and culture.

Masks at Chamaguri Satra, Majuli.  

Meanings of the terms


Ekasarana Dharma: panentheistic religion propagated by Srimanra Sankardeva in the 15th-16th century in Assam. It focuses on pure devotion or bhakti to Krishna consisting primarily in singing (Kirtan) and listening to (Sravan) to his deeds and activities. It is also referred to as ek sarana Hari naam dharma.


Vaishnavism: One of the major Hindu denominations along with Shaivism, Shaktism etc. It is also called Vishnuism, its followers are called Vaishnavas or Vaishnavites, and it considers Vishnu as the Supreme Lord.


BhaunaIt is a traditional form of entertainment, always with religious messages, prevalent is Assam created by Sankardeva.


Satriya, or Sattriya Nritya or Dance: A classical Indian dance that originated in Assam.


Ankiya Nat: They are One-act plays which combine the aesthetic and the religious through a ballad, dance and drama, usually performed in the dance community halls (Namghar) of monastery temples (Satras). The themes of this play relate to Krishna and Radha, sometimes other Vishnu Avataras such as Rama and Sita.


Bhajgar: Also known as Monikut where valuable ornaments of gold and silver are kept in this area. Some representative statues are also kept here. The Bhaj Ghar is established in the east side of Kirtan Ghar in the north-south position.


Nam-Prasanga: The common and chief religious ritual of the Vaishnava tradition in Assam which involves singing of devotional songs and verses composed by Sankaradeva-Madhabdeva. The Borgeets: have traditionally been an indispensable part of this Nam-prasanga


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Also read

1 Teachings of Sankaradeva Assam

2 Majuli Satras and landscape pictures

3 Masks of Chamguri Satra Majuli

4 Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalashetra Guwahati

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