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Assam’s Sattras and their Political Significance


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Sattras

Mains level: Not Much


  • Ahead of a general elections rally, a politician has paid a visit to the Sri Sri Auniati Satra, a 350-year-old Vaishnavite monastery located in Assam’s Majuli district.
  • These Sattras, rooted in the Neo-Vaishnavite reformist movement, play a crucial role in Assamese culture, encompassing religious, social, and cultural aspects.

Spread of Sattras

  • Founding: Srimanta Sankaradeva established the first Satra in 1494 in Bardowa, his native village in Nagaon district.
  • Expansion: As Sankaradeva preached, Satras were established across the Brahmaputra Valley, including Coochbehar in West Bengal.
  • Current Count: There are nearly 900 Satras today, with significant ones located in Majuli island, Barpeta, Nagaon, and Dhubri.

Composition of a Sattra

  • Central Worship Hall: Each Sattra has a central worship hall known as “naamghar,” which serves as its nucleus.
  • Sattradhikar: A Sattra is headed by an influential leader known as the “Sattradhikar.”
  • Bhakats: Monks, referred to as bhakats, are initiated into Sattras at a young age, and their celibacy status varies depending on the Sattra they belong to.

Diverse Sattra Denominations

  • Samhatis: Satras fall into four major Samhatis or denominations: Brahma-samhati, Kal-samhati, Nika-samhati, and Purush-samhati.
  • Brahma-samhati: Exclusively led by Satradhikars from Brahmin families.
  • Celibate Monks: Some Satras, like Dakhinpaat, Auni-ati, Bhogpur, Uttar Kamalabari, and Natun Kamalabari, practice celibacy.
  • Varied Succession: Smaller Satras, often family-run, pass leadership from father to son, with monks not necessarily observing celibacy.

Legacy of Srimanta Sankaradeva

  • Neo-Vaishnavite Reform: Sattras are monastic institutions that trace their origins to the 16th-century Neo-Vaishnavite reformist movement initiated by Saint-Reformer Srimanta Sankaradeva.
  • Spreading Teachings: As Sankaradeva traveled across Assam, his teachings aimed at fostering an egalitarian society, and the establishment of Sattras or Thans played a pivotal role in realizing this vision.
  • Cultural and Religious Centers: These institutions are the heart of Assamese culture and serve as centers for religious, social, and cultural reforms.
  • Worship Through Art: Sattras propagate Sankardeva’s unique approach of “worship through art” through practices like music (borgeet), dance (sattriya), and theatre (bhauna).

Sankardeva’s Philosphy: Eka-sharana-naam-dhrama

  • Bhakti Form: Sankardeva promoted a form of Bhakti known as “eka-sharana-naam-dhrama.”
  • Equality and Fraternity: His teachings aimed at establishing a society characterized by equality and fraternity, free from caste distinctions, orthodox rituals, and sacrifices.
  • Focus on Prayer and Chanting: Sankardeva’s dharma emphasized prayer and chanting (naam) instead of traditional idol worship.

Sattras and Their Relationship with the State

  • Historical Patronage: During the Ahom reign, Sattras received significant donations in the form of land and money from the kings.
  • Self-Sufficiency: Unlike temples, Sattras were self-sufficient, producing their own food and sustaining themselves.
  • Contemporary Support: In contemporary times, Sattras receive annual grants from both state and central governments, often associated with political motives.

Political Influence of Sattras

  • Influence in Elections: While Sattra votes may not be the sole determinant of election outcomes, Sattras and Sattradhikars wield substantial influence.
  • Sattra-Based Constituencies: Several constituencies in Assam, like Nagaon, Kaliabor, Majuli, Barpeta, Bartadadrva, have a significant Sattra presence.
  • Family Ties: Many Assamese families maintain close ties with one Sattra or another.
  • Political Visits: Politicians from various parties frequently visit Sattras, recognizing their importance in the political landscape.


  • Sattras, deeply rooted in Assam’s cultural and religious heritage, represent the teachings of Srimanta Sankaradeva and his vision of an egalitarian society.
  • These institutions continue to exert political influence in Assam, particularly in Sattra-based constituencies, making them a significant force in the state’s political landscape.

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