MATERIAL CULTURE OF THE SELECT SATRAS OF MAJULI


By Pranami Bania

1.Introduction

Majuli, the only place in the Brahmaputra valley, which happens to be a place of world heritage, is unique in its own way. Here we can find nature playing perfect harmony with the beautiful atmosphere of the surrounding. And this place is not just famous for one reason, there are many, but the most important is the Satra institution. The Satra institution, an upshot of the Vaishnava reformation initiated by Sankardeva can be said to be the centre of artistic and aesthetic material culture of the Assamese society. These institutions brought about a new renaissance to the Assamese Society by contributing immensely in the field of literature, dance, carvings, drama and architecture to house the changes from the 16th century onwards.
The Satra monuments are not gigantic in scale but they have their own dignity, stone and masonary were the privileges of the royalty, so the large and rich Satras like Kamalabari, Garmur, Auniati and Dakhinpat in Majuli were almost wholly built of wood and embellished lavishly with carvings, paintings and other objects.
The new Vaishnavite movement inspired its adherents and was also the guiding force behind the numerous manuscripts which began to be written and illustrated with great zeal. Thus, the manuscripts paintings of Assam are one of the offshoots of this cultural upsurge (Sharma, 1996). The existing manuscripts of our period may give us some idea of the writing materials used. These consisted of the inner bank of the bhurja patra, aloe wood and sancipat (aquilaria agallocha), tulapat (leaves made by pressing cotton) or cotton cloth, wooden board, palm leaves, animal substances, clay, metal stone, brick etc.

The Satra institution is not just a treasure house of manuscripts, it has many more things like ancient weapons, artistry, utensils, jewellery, handicrafts, mask-crafts etc. Therefore, it has a rich culture of its own and can be linked to cultural studies.
2.Satras of Majuli

2.1 Sri Sri Garmurh Satra

Lakshminarayana, another saint of Damodardev sect and a passionate devotee, established the Garmurh satra in Majuli island during the reign of Jayadhvaj Singh. It should be noted that under the patronage of the Ahom sovereigns, the Majuli Satras became the centers of the Vaishnava faith, cultural activity and piety of the monks. During autumn end, the traditional Rasleela (co-acting) is shown with great enthusiasm. Some ancient weapons called ‘Bartoop’ (canons) are preserved here.

Fig-1: Garmur  Satra

Fig-2: A  Picture of ‘Bortop’

The Satra has a centre, where all the main activities are held, which is known as the namghar. It is a large open hall with gabled roof having an apsidal facade in the western and over which is a ‘top’ or the dome on the roof (Datta, 2004). The areas in a namghar is systematically arranged for its numerous functions an also in reverence to the various duties that preside over the site space is determined by a host of ceremonial requirements- places for offering, place for the asana (wooden pedestal with the sacred scripture), the large wood carvings of Garuda, Hanuman, Jaya-Vijaya are clearly chalked out.
Fig-3: A picture of the Namghar in Garmur satra
In this Satra, there is a large number of wood carvings and paintings especially of Sri Krishna, Boloram, Kurma, Borah, Porasuram that are beautifully engraved. Thus, the Garmurh Satra is treasure house of a rich material culture which will really shine in glory for the future years to come.

2.2 Sri Sri Auniati Satra

From, Garmurh satra, we went to our next destination, another Satra that is Auniati Satra. From the local people and literary survey, we can gather some information about this Satra, which are described here.

Niranjanadeva a distinguished disciple of Vanshigopal founded the Auniati Satra. Nironjanadevas’ purity of character and devotion to God drew admiration even from the Ahom king Jayadhraj Singh (1648-1663 AD) who himself became the saint’s disciple and endowed the Satra and the monastry. This Satra is famous for ‘Palnam’ and Apsara dance and also for its considerable collection of Assamese utensils, jewelry and handicrafts.
Manuscripts writing form a major work in the Auniati Satra. There are a large number of manuscripts that one can find in this Satra. There are sancipat, tulapat scripts and also various paintings on the sancipat. Book like ‘Hastividynav’, ‘Hastyayuveda’ are some very popular book at the time of the Ahom dynasty. These books are reflection of the living manners, dress, costumes of the people from the royal family. This Satra is rich in the art, sclupture and painting of the royal heritage.
Fig- 4: Auniati satra
Fig- 5:Sancipat script          

Fig- 6: Sancipat Script 

Fig.-7: Handmade Ivory Boxes 
Fig.-8: Bell metal utensils made in the Satras

Fig.-9: Sri Sri Uttar Kamalabari Satra

2.3 Sri Sri Kamalabari satra

Padma ata who was a shudra set up Kamalabari satra in the Majuli island. He led a very simple and saintly life and attained high spiritual eminence. In course of years, inessential rites and unrecognized observances crept into the faith which Padma Ata and Mathura Das of Barpeta Satra reformed. They set up a refined sect called “Nikasaintati’ Padma Ata stresses the teachings of Sankardeva that external things such as yogic exercise, sacrifice, bathng in Holy River, pilgrimage, ‘Sanyasa’ and fasting do not purify a man as honest life, good company and love of all beings do. On the eve of his death, Padma Ata nominated his Brahman disciple Shriram to the Adhikarship of the Kamalabari satra. This is also an Udasin satra i.e. the head of the satra is a celibate (Narimattam, 1988).

Kamalabari Satra is a centre of art, culture, literature and classical studies. Its branch Uttar Kamalabari Satra has performed cultural programs of Satria Art in several states of India. There are a large number of wooden craft found in Kamalabari Satra. Magnificient design engraved in wood creates the whole artistic piece a great master piece. Mention can be made of the boat found in the Satra made by the artist of the Satra. Some of these precious hand made articles are presented to the Kala khetra and Guwahati museum.


Fig.-10: Hand made Boats used in the Satras

Fig-11: Handmade wooden items made by the local people.

Fig-12: Decorative items made in the Satras.

Fig-13: Mask Craft

Fig.-14: Handmade Wooden Sarai

3.Conclusion
The project study found out that the rich material culture of the Satras are a very rich history of our culture, society. The materials being organic in nature, high humidity and high temperature of the region, lack of awareness and religious ethos relating to these makes the conservation part a challenging one. The region being prone to flood, earthquake etc. too makes preserving these rare documents more challenging.
As the materials that are found in the satras are of vital importance, so preservation is of utmost importance. The need of the house is to work for the cultural unity and preservatin of the materials. During the project study, survey was made to find out how the local people and the people associated with the satras are working for the preservation of the rich culture. From the interactions made with the local people and the satradhikars come very harsh reality came to our notice.
The reality is that many of the precious materials are being washed away by the fast moving currents of time. The need of the hour is to act and save the aesthetic material culture of satra. Now it is not only the responsibility of the local people and the satradhikars to find ways for preserving this rich cultural heritage but the Government as well as the NGO’s can play a major part in their preservation. Creating awareness among the people, especially the coming generation arranging training programmes for the local youth can best save the culture from its slow death.
So at the end of my project study, I can say that while carrying out the study, there were many limitations, many constraints, challenges which were faced in a positive way. The study is not a very exhaustive one but it is really exploratory in nature. The research study has some very important findings which will surely help the people at the national and regional level. Being a part of the greater subject of cultural studies, the study insist on an awareness of positioning aid a commitment to the production of located knowledge which does not make universalizing claims. Each country has its own specific history. So cultured studies tries to explore the history and the culture of that country. So, the research work will surely help in lacing a specific cultural development to the International level. It will likely to open up new vistas of learning and will be a beneficial for the society. The discovery of the aesthetic material culture will enlighten the contemporary society by reproducing and transferring social relations.
(N.B: The article is part of a Minor Research Project Undertaken by the Author which was approved by UGC) 
References

  • M. Narimattam. The Valley IN Blossom. New Delhi: Spectrum Publication, 1988, pp.65-66.
  • A. Datta. Poetry, Religion and Culture- the Indian Perspectives and Sankardeva. Guwahati: Forum for Sankardeva Studies, 2004, ,pp. 35-38.
  • S.N. Sharma. The Neo –Vaishnavite Movement and Satra Institution of Assam. Guwahati: Lawsyer’s Book Stall, Panbazar, 1996, pp.89-91.


About the author: Pranami Bania, a poet, translator, researcher and a writer have published more than thirty research papers in national and International peer reviewed journals.She has completed two minor research projects approved by UGC titled “Aesthetic material Culture of the medieaval Assamese society with the special reference to Satras in Majuli” and “Fictionalizing and Revisiting the female characters from history: A feminist Reading of Nirupama Borgohain’s Selected works.”She has also completed another research project titled “Classroom Management as an effective tool in Teaching Learning Process; A Study in the context of a particular Classroom Situation” approved by IGNOU. She has participated and presented many research papers in various national and international conferences.She has jointly published a poetry book “Jatra: Ek Arambhani” in 2014. At present she is working on areas like Comparative literature, Translation, Women writers, Cultural studies and feminist writing. She is working as Senior Asst Professor, Dept of English, J.B. College (Autonomous), Jorhat, Assam. Recently she has won a national award of excellence for academic excellence known as Adarsh Vidya Saraswati Rashtriya Puraskar 2016 and she is recognised as one of the best teacher in the Country by Global Management Council and G.J. Research Foundation, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. 

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