The Satras have been socio- religious institutions in Assam for more than 500 years now. Although started mainly as a mechanism of propagation of the Vaishnavite school of thought by the two Mahapurushas, these transformed into social institutions very fast and became inseparable elements of Assam’s socio- cultural heritage.
The Satras and the Satradhikars , initially, faced persecution
in the hands of the power that was, but could survive all onslaughts because of
historical necessity resulting from yearning for change in those times and
acceptance by the common people.
The Satras had and still has substantial land with each of them.
Each had a substantial following. Most of them continue to have large number of
following. On average a Satra has about 1000 following.
The Satras have an inner strength which enabled them to nurture,
culture and preserve its unique classical based dance forms, music, performing
arts and other traditions without any significant Royal or Government patronage
for five centuries . The measure of this very significant contribution of the
Satras towards Assam,s identity can be gauged from the recognition of the
Satriya dance as one of the recognized classical dance forms of India. With
debatable but avoidable conservatism, the Satras have carried the substance of
Assam’s cultural identity this far.
But now is the time for giving a different look at the Satras.
A few high lights in this context-
1. Satra is a place for Guru (
Satradhikar) and Shishya (Bhakats ). The Guru – Shishya tradition has been kept
alive quite effectively and 500 years is a good enough time to say that it is
2. The Satradhikars are religious
leaders and regulars discourses and familial submissions when
needed confirm this .
3. Satradhikars are recognized
social leaders in the sense that generally their consent is sought for
any decision in the areas of their jurisdiction.
e.g.-a) Advising on the future path for the children of
the disciples taking into account the family and social needs.
b) Advising on cultivation programmes for villages depending on
suitability of land etc.
c) Fixing and formulating yearly religious and cultural
d) Acting as judge, sort of , giving judgments on family and
e) Enforcing a desirable social and moral code of conduct
f) Acting as reference points , they have standardized
many notions, procedures, methods, grammars, codes and systems in the whole
Xatra life, Art, performance etc.
The major systems in place-
1) A revenue collection system and a network.
2) A banking system for transaction of goods and services.
3) An hierarchical system of administration.
4) The Satradhikars and their representatives used to travel a
lot for religious as well as other administrative purposes ; thereby acquiring
first hand knowledge of the places and the people- a strength by any reckoning.
Some Satras ( Auniati et al ) used to form Sahars out of a cluster of villages in
distant places, came there periodically, met the people, interacted, held religious
discourses, settled disputes, collected revenues, made new disciples and set
The major drawbacks –
1) Majority of the Satras are very
strongly conservative in out look.
2) By choice, the Satras remained
dependent on others for its economic existence.
3) The Satras expected
contribution from its disciples but they never took any proactive steps to
increase their productivity. Stimulus in this context was and is definitely
4) Because of weak financial
condition, most of the Satras could never inspire younger generations at any
time resulting in dearth of quality inputs .A weak person cannot inspire
anybody. So the Satras could never grow on any expected line. In fact, no
religion-based education can do proper justice to a modern man.
5) Because of lack of interest
& weak personality of the people at the helm and absence of creative &
productive work, large chunk of land of a large number of Satras have been
encroached. In many cases it is irretrievable. Illegal immigrants have also
gobbled up many .
6) The Satras somehow could not
adapt to the changing times and are now largely in existence out of inertia.
Somewhere down the line, the Satras had lost relevance and like India it
never realized its potential and remained cocooned .
This is not to ignore or nullify the very significant
contributions of a few Satras and Satradhikars in the freedom struggle of
India, in education and in ensuring social justice.
To alleviate this situation, some steps may be taken in the
1. Modification of the Satra concept
– Keeping the religious authority and aspects intact , a separate body
need to be formed within the domain of the Satras to undertake some management
economic projects like agriculture, sericulture,
horticulture, floriculture, pisciculture etc.to utilize the Satra land and that
of the disciples for higher productive gain in business lines .
b) Improving infrastructure to act as tourism destination points to
project Xatra culture, Art etc . They can be Hubs of Eco- Tourism and Study Centres for Tradititional
Wisdom as well.
c) PURA- Providing urban amenities in rural areas is a
concept adopted by the Govt of India. The corporate sector like the ONGC ltd
have started schemes under this in Tripura.For implementing PURA, the Satras will be very ideal.
People still revere, respect and listen to them.
d) Xatra life is very strongly community oriented.
It can be very
effectively used for activities like Library movement ,
Sports movement , Cluster development for hand looms and handicrafts , food
processing , herbal medicines, paramedical service etc.
e) Since the Satras have command over the people ,
propagation of government development schemes, social welfare schemes
( AIDS awareness , Two children norm etc ) can be smooth.
2. One of the curses of the modern age is unbridled consumption.
The rich countries of the world have proved how the lust for consumption can
lead to social, financial and environmental disaster. The Satras practise
a life of necessity based consumption. This value can be propagated for a healthy
living which ultimately is environment friendly. Modern
gurus like Ramdev, Ravi Shankar have pervaded almost all spheres of our lives
with similar values. Our Satras need to be outward looking to have wider
acceptability in this context. They can definitely contribute towards rationalizing the
rat race for material achievement that damages the family
life, traditional culture, lead to stressful life that damages the body too.
are scattered all over the state. If these can be made to bloom as envisaged,
these will act as nuclei to orchestrate many changes( act as catalyst to social
changes and activate a chain of economic parameters ). A good network of the
Satras can be a very effective marketing tool for products, services and
4. Culture which has no economic strength is not culture.
Only religious rituals, community feasts, dance and songs will not hold
any promise for the future. The very fact that about 1000 Satras with 50 odd
lakhs of followers are crying for mere survival speaks volumes about the
necessity to inject modern management into the Satra concept.
Therefore a need of the hour is to make a model Satra with the
mentioned ingredients for others to replicate in manageable form.
a) the mornings can start with
programmes on health / yoga along with spiritual upliftment
b) The days can be full of
economic ( production of artfacts, handloom, handicrafts, floriculture,
horticulture, pisciculture, food processing, livestock management, research and
educational activities. The list can be endless.
c) The evenings can be times of
cultural programmes and other mentally recuperating activities.
d) The Satras will have to reach out. So
it must make its presence felt in the surroundings by way of social work
and other inputs
e) The Satras must have provisions
to house persons of substance to receive inputs as well as to act as a bridge
with the outside world.
f) It also has to have its
This is not something entirely impossible. It does not involve
unmanageable requirement of fund also.Only requirement is a willing mind.