Research Scholar (Ph.D), Department of History, Gauhati University,
Guwahati, Assam, India

Assam witnessed the rise of the Neo Vaishnava Movement during the 15th-16th century AD under the vaishnava saint Srimanta Sankardeva(1449-1568), his chief disciple Sri Madhavdeva(1489-1596)  and their followers. It was in Dhuwahat Belguri in Majuli island that Srimanta Sankardeva met his chief disciple Sri Madhavdeva for the first time and both of them began their activities of propagation of the Neo-Vaishnavite Movement among the people of Assam. This meeting of the two great propagators of the Neo Vaishnava  movement is often referred as ‘Manikanchan Sanjug’ in the traditional literature. Flourishing of the Neo-Vaishnavite Movement had contributed towards the establishment of a new group of socio-cultural institutions called sattra institutions, which became an integral part of this Neo Vaishnava movement. With the passage of time these sattras institutions developed into a storehouse of numerous artforms (both tangible and intangible) which helped in shaping the cultural identity of Assam and its people. Large number of antiquities, archaeological objects, art objects belonging to early medieval period and medieval period are found preserved in the sattra institutions of Majuli. In this paper an attempt has been taken up to study a few antiquities and archaeological remains that are found preserved in Sri Sri Garmaur and Sri Sri Beneana Ati sattras of Majuli.

Key words: Sattra institutions, Neo-Vaishnavite movement, Sri Sri Garmaur Sattra, Sri Sri Bengana Ati Sattra

The socio-cultural movement launched during the early medieval period in India in order to reform the existing cultural trends within the society, mainly aimed at creating harmony among the Hindus and the Muslims and to revitalise the Hindu religion with a new liberal outlook. This led to the emergence of the “Bhakti Movement” which within a very short span widespread to almost all over India. Srimanta Sankardeva who was the progenitor of this movement in Assam got influenced by the ideals and philosophy of this movement during his pilgrimage to Puri and Vrindavan (Barua, 2007). He was so much impressed by the ideals of Bhakti Movement that a similar urge arouse in his heart to begin a similar movement in Assam. Later during the 15th-16th century Sankardeva along with his disciples began the task of propagating this movement in Assam. This Neo-Vaishnavite Bhakti Movement in Assam is known as the “eka sarana bhagawata namadharma”, which is a monotheistic doctrine adoring Lord Visnu as the supreme lord.

Although the Neo-Vaishnavite movement originated in eastern part of Assam but it didn’t get sufficient support from the Ahom monarchs hence Sankardeva moved to western Assam where it flourished and took its matured shape under the patronage of the Koch king Naranarayana(1581-1603) (Sarma,1989). It was only after the death of Sankardeva that the Neo-Vaishnavite Movement was spread in eastern or Upper Assam by his disciples. Therefore with the passage of time, Majuli in Upper Assam became one of the major centre of Neo-Vaishnavite culture in Assam.

As discussed, the Neo-Vaishnavite Movement gave birth to a number of institutions and one such institution is the “sattra”. A sattra is a Vaishnavite institution which was formed in the line of the Buddhist monasteries. It has a definite architectural pattern catering around the namghar (Nath,2009).  Sattra institutions of Assam are categorically divided into three groups viz.monastic, semi-monastic and household.

For propagation of his new doctrine Srimanta Sankardeva established than ghars and sattra institutions and adopted literature, including composition of devotional slokas, ankia naat, ankia geet, payar borgeet, translation of original Sanskrit kavyas such as Bhagawata, (devotional verses), writing of manuscripts, music or sangeet including gayana, bayana, nritya, threatical performance called bhaonas and introduced such other creativities  as paintings, making of  masks and other creative art forms as required in the establishment of a sattra and other performing art. These include cymbal, sorai, dhari, pati, decorative items used in Kirttanghar and introduced a number of utilitarian art objects for use in the sattra institutions. This creative art objects became so popular that it assumed the form of folk art traditions and apart from sattra institutions and namghars these were also used as household items.

Sri Sri Garmaur and Sri Sri Benganati Sattras of Majuli island have a number of such antiquarian objects, and a study on these  will help us to understand the cultural art traditions of Assam which  may unfold  certain new historical conclusions which were under the veils till now.

The objective of this paper is to study all the historical remains and the artefacts preserved within Sri Sri Garmaur Sattra and Sri Sri Bengana Ati Sattra of Majuli island which bears the legacy of the cultural heritage of Assam.

The methodology used here is Historical Research Methodology where the work is mostly based on field survey conducted by the author during November 2014 through measurements, photographs, documentation, compilation and interviews with the Sattradhikars of the respective sattras. Secondary sources such as books, journals, reports etc. were also consulted during the preparation of the paper.

4.Results and Discussion
Sri Sri Garmaur sattra was established by the Ahom king Jayaddhvaj Singha(1648-63), during the year 1578 (Dutta,2007). It is located on the northern part of the Majuli island and is situated at a distance of 6 km from  the present Kamalabari town. The name of the sattra has been derived from two words, “garh” which means embankment and “mur” which means head or end in Assamese. They together means the “end of an embankment”. Being established and patronized by the kings of medieval Assam, Garmaur Sattra became one of the most affluent sattras.

Sri Sri Bengana Ati sattra on the other hand was established in the year 1626 by Muraridev, who was the grandson of Sankardeva’s step-mother. The place where the sattra was established was full of Kotahi Bengana( a kind of thorny brinjal) and Ati means elevated place hence the sattra came to be known as Bengana Ati (Boruah,2009).

The historical antiquities found within these two sattras can be divided into six categories: i) Historical remains, ii) Inscriptions, iii) Manuscript, iv)Wooden, Bamboo and Cane Art, v) Metallic Art and vi) Miscellaneous objects.

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