SATTRAS IN THE RIVER ISLAND OF MAJULI
The Sattra is a religious and cultural institution which is concerned with the dissemination of the principles and devotional practices of Neo-Vaishnavism - a religious movement which has had a strong impact on the religious and socio cultural life of people of Assam since the 15th century.
They are primarily located on the Majuli Island, the spiritual hub of Assam. The prime focus of the Sattra is to enlighten individuals through spiritual and religious practices. The Sattra is the physical attribute of the religious beliefs of Neo-Vaishnavism. It is also the centre of cultural activities which gives a unique cultural identity to the island. The principles of Neo- Vaishnavism are disseminated to the common man through devotional music, songs, and dance forms. These cultural activities are an integral part of the Sattras.
The Sattriya culture has been playing a pivotal role in binding together different ethnic groups of the region through the spread of religious ideologies of Neo-Vaishnavism and its cultural traditions since the 15th century.
Srimanta Sankaradeva (1449-1568), the versatile genius, chiefly known as the exponent of Vaisnavism in Assam, was essentially a social reformer. Upset by the socio-cultural disparity and depravity that had been crippling the society in the name of religion (Barnasram Dharma and Tantrik Buddhism), he upheld Vaisnavism as a better choice before the people. However religion was not his chief agenda. He aimed at reforming the society through a comprehensive cultural revolution by boosting the art and music of Assam and ensuring in the process a refinement of the taste of the people. Hence he gave religion too an artistic form by asserting the superiority of Sravana (listening to) and Kirtana (singing) among the nine types of Bhakti (devotion).
Majuli is the nerve-centre of the neo-Vaishnavite religion, art and culture. In fact, it is considered to be the Vatican of neo-Vaishnavism. It was way back in the 16th century that Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva along with his chief disciple, Madhabdeva, laid the foundation of the Satra culture in Majuli, which ushered in an era of distinctive religio-cultural heritage. Sankardeva, the great social reformer, founded a new cult of Vaishnavism, known as Ek Saran Naam Dharma, meaning Lord Vishnu is at the root of all gods and goddesses and He is to be worshipped only through naam prasanga(prayer).
The hallmark of the Neo-Vaisnavite movement initiated by Shankaradeva is reflected in two distinctively unique institutions, viz., the Sattra and the Namghar, both of which are intimately associated with the social, cultural as well as religious life of the Assamese society. The Namghar actually evolved as an offshoot an extended wing or a miniature replica of the Sattra institution.The following are the components of a Sattra viz. Batchora, Namghar,Manikut,Hati,Boha,Pukhuri and agricultural fields.
SOCIAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM OF THE SATTRAS
The occupants of a Sattra can be broadly classified in to two categories: the Sattradhikara and the Bhakats.
The Sattradhikara is the religious and the administrative head of the Sattra and all the devotees who stays permanently within the Sattra are known as Bhakats. They are responsible for different kinds of duties related to the Sattra activities. These duties vary from administrative, maintenance, religious, and religious cum cultural activities.
The number of Bhakats and specific functionaries depend on the size of the Sattra and the type (udasin or grihasti).