Satra (Ekasarana Dharma)
Satras (Assamese: সত্ৰ) are institutional centers associated with the Ekasarana tradition of Vaishnavism, particularly in the Indian state of Assam and neighboring regions. Numbering in the hundreds, these centers are generally independent of each other and under the control of individual adhikaras (or satradhikars), though they can be grouped into four different Sanghatis (orders).
These centers, in the minimum, maintain a prayer house (Namghar, or Kirtan-ghar), initiate lay people into the Ekasarana tradition and include them as disciples of the Satra from whom taxes and other religious duties are extracted. The Satras started in the 16th century, grew rapidly in the 17th century and patronage extended to them by first the Koch kingdom and later the Ahom kingdom was crucial in the spread the Ekasarana religion. Many of the larger Satras house hundreds of celibate and non-celibate bhakats (monks), hold vast lands and are repositories of religious and cultural relics and artifacts. The Satras extend control over their lay disciples via village Namghars. Satras in which the principal preceptors lived, or which preserve some of their relics are also called thaans.
The satras are established by Assamese Vaishnavite monasteries for religious practices at the initiative of the Ahom Kings of Assam in the middle of the 17th century to propagate neo Vaishnavism. Sankaradeva is said to have established his first Satra at Bardowa, his birthplace, and then in different places of Assam.
In the 20th century the authority and orthodoxy of the Satras was challenged by reform movements, most notable under the Sankar Sangha. The Satras coordinate some of their activities via the Asam Satra Mahasabha, an umbrella organization of all the Satras. According to the Mahasabha's count on its website there is altogether a total of 862 Satras including the satras present in both the states of Assam and West Bengal.
The Satra is generally a four-sided enclosed area with four gateways (karapat). Centrally placed in this enclosure is a rectangular prayer-hall (Namghar or kirtanghar) at the aligned in the east-west direction. On its eastern side there is an additional independent structure called the Manikut (jewel-house), the sanctum santorum, in which the asana, a wooden tetradehral structure with four carved lions), is placed containing the main object of worship (usually a copy of the Bhagavat Purana in manuscript or an idol). The namghar is surrounded by four straight rows of huts, called hati, in which monks (bhakats) reside. The adhikara and other high officers of the Satra reside in the eastern hatis.
All structures were originally temporary, made with wood, bamboo and covered over with thatch; brick and mortar found use after the 18th century.
Monks, called bhakats, live in satras under a satradhikar or Mahanta. In some orders of the religion, the bhakats are celibate (kewalia bhakat). The satras are not merely religious institutions but play cultural and historical roles in society. A dance form that was initiated by Srimanta Sankardeva and later developed within the sattras, and thus called Sattriya, is one of the eight classical dance forms in India.
Origin and evolution
The name satra originates in the Bhagavata Purana in Sanskrit (sattra), and is used in the sense of an assembly of devotees. During Sankardev's lifetime, 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 Sankardev's lifetime. The first mention of the hati is found in the context of the Patbausi Satra of Damodardev. Madhavdev built the Barpeta Satra, and laid down the system of daily prayer service and initiated the system of religious tithes. Vamsigopaldev was instrumental in establishing Satras in eastern Assam. Though the Ahom kingdom initially resisted the ingress of religious preceptors it finally endorsed the Satras enabling them to establish themselves on sound economics, make themselves attractive to the lay people and spread the Ekasarana religion. Soon Majuli, in eastern Assam, became a center of Satra tradition and authority.
Some of the cultural programmes, which are held in Sattras:-
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Satra.|
- on YouTube
- A Tribute to Sankaradeva - A website on the Neo-Vaisnavite Movement of Srimanta Sankardeva.
- Bhakti Movement in the Brahmaputra Valley: Response of the Satra Institution towards Social Equality.