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Assam’s Sattras and their political significance

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sattras, Sankardeva's Philosophy

Mains level : Various schools of philosophy in India

In poll-bound Assam, the campaigns are sought to be held in the Bartadrava Than/Sattra (monastery) in Nagaon, which is the birthplace of renowned Vaishnavite saint-reformer Srimanta Sankardeva.

Q.Discuss the role of religion in India’s electoral politics. Discuss how identity politics is harmful to a harmonious society.

What are Sattras?

  • Sattras are monastic institutions created as part of the 16th-century Neo-Vaishnavite reformist movement started by Vaishnavite saint-reformer Srimanta Sankaradeva (1449-1596).
  • As the saint travelled across Assam, spreading his teachings and propagating an egalitarian society, these Sattras/Thans were established as centres of religious, social and cultural reforms in the 16th century.
  • These institutions are of paramount importance and lie at the heart of Assamese culture.
  • Today, Sattras are spread across the state, promulgating Sankardeva’s unique “worship through art” approach with music (borgeet), dance (sattriya) and theatre (bhauna).

Composition of Sattra

  • Each Sattra has a naamghar (worship hall) as its nucleus and is headed by an influential “Sattradhikar”.
  • Monks, known as bhakats, are inducted into Sattras at a young age.
  • They may or may not be celibate, depending on the kind of Sattra they are inducted into.

What is Sankardeva’s philosophy?

  • Sankardeva propagated a form of Bhakti called eka-sharana-naam-dhrama.
  • He espoused a society based on equality and fraternity, free from caste differences, orthodox Brahmanical rituals and sacrifices.
  • His teaching focused on prayer and chanting (naam) instead of idol worship. His dharma was based on the four components of deva (god), naam (prayers), bhakats (devotees), and guru (teacher).

Try this PYQ:

Q. With reference to the cultural history of medieval India, consider the following statements:

  1. Siddhas (Sittars) of Tamil region were monotheistic and condemned idolatry.
  2. Lingayats of Kannada region questioned the theory of rebirth and rejected the caste hierarchy

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

What is the relationship between the Sattra and the State?

  • During the Ahom reign, the Sattras received a lot of donations in the form of land or money from the kings.
  • Unlike temples, Sattras did not require patronage because they were self-sufficient, grew their own food and could sustain themselves.
  • However, today, it is different. Annual grants from the state and central government are doled out to Sattras, in the hope of political support.

Do Sattras matter in elections?

  • While Sattra votes may not decide the outcome of an election, it is undeniable that the Sattras and Sattradhikars have a lot of influence.
  • There are especially Sattra-based constituencies like Nagaon, Kaliabor, Majuli, Barpeta, Bartadadrva etc.
  • Assamese families usually have ties with one Sattra, or the other.
  • That is why politicians — regardless of party are often seen visiting Sattra.
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