MAJULI: SATRAS & THEIR ECONOMY – Dr. Bidyut Bikash Baishya


I was always curious to know how people live in an island, all the time surrounded by water. I was very excited to explore Majuli because since my childhood I have heard about Majuli as a treasure house of literature, culture and the aesthetic beauty. The most waited day came, when I along with my wife & daughter accompanied in the study tour taken out by the Department of Economics, Pragjyotish College to Majuli. This trip was very special for me as to have intake experience to see the largest river island in the world situated in the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra River.

We started from the Guwahati Railway Station, 8 pm, to the Jorhat town station. Around 6 am in the next morning we reached the Jorhat town station. At the station, what caught my eyes, that it was very neat and clean, somewhat I feel Swaach Bharat Abhijan was taking its motion. From the Jorhat railway station we went to Nimatighat to embark a ferry to Kamalabari. The mighty Brahmaputra welcomed us with chill wind. On the bank of the river, we saw lots of Geo- Bags to support the bank from the flood. Here the face of the Brahmaputra is not same with the face that we saw at Guwahati or North Guwahati Ghats. Here the Brahmaputra is wider and open showing its mightiness. The ferry started positively at 8.30 am crowed on the top roof & inside the I prefer to sit inside as the wind was blowing very fast. En route, we also met ‘The Forest Man’, Padmashri Jadav Payeng, who shared his experiences and views throughout the journey. After one and half hour, we reached the Kamalabari Ghat. From there we went to the New Kamalabari Satra guesthouse. Getting refreshed there, on the same day we moved out to explore and enjoy Majuli.

We first visited the famous Auniati satra, established in 1653. Here we came across with the Satradhikar Dr. Pitambar Deva Goswami, a person of repute. He explained us in detail about the origin of the Satra institution, and it can be traced to the time when the Neo-Vaishnavite movement initiated by Srimanta Sankardeva. These Satra institutions, the centre of artistic and aesthetic material culture of the Assamese society, 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 This museum in the Auniati Satra preserved the cultural heritage of the Satras since The Ahom Kingdoms After the Auniati Satra we went to New Kamalabari Satra. Here we came to see the livelihood of the Bhakats residing in the campus of the Satra called Hatti’ and also the young boys who were given training to became Bhakats. As discussed with some of the old Bhakats of this institution, they told us that each and every satra like other institutions need a considerable amount of funds for its daily activities, expansion, preaching of Vaishnavism through activities like Rasleela, Satriya Nritya, Palnam, Bhaonas Religious chanting etc. and to fulfill the day today needs.

When asked in detail, about the head of expenditure of the Satras, they told that, Satra institutions organize a number of cultural festivals every year and during those days the visiting tourists were provided food free of cost. Further, the Bhakats living in the ‘Hattis need to be supported financially or otherwise for their undying service provided to the Satra. This requires the major portion of funds to be spent Therefore, a substantial amount is spend on food provided to the devotees visiting the Satras during the time of cultural festivals and providing basic necessities of the Bhakats, viz, living, food and housing Moreover, recurring amount in the form of depreciation costs need incurred on the maintenance of Satras Most of the Satras were more than 100 years old, some of them were 300 to 400 years old, need repair works on regular basis and most often it is needed during the annual floods. Damages to these Satras were made by the a Annual floods which increases the expenditure of the Satras. Transportation cost of the Satradhikars and the electricity bills of the Satra was also an another important head of expenditures Some major Satras were own vehicle and they need a good amount to be spent throughout the year Besides, construction of museum and a Bhoral Ghar of the Satras also requires a good amount of money. Moreover, to expand the socio-cultural activities and to teach the basics of Vaishnavism, like, “matiakhara”, learning of gokha etc. the Satras were establishing various institutions and primary and high schools in different places which requires a considerable amount of expenditures to be spent. Constructions of guest house of the Satra, construction of branches of the Satra at different places etc. also include a good number of expenditure.

Now, as for the earnings the Satras, they have to depend solely on government funding, donations and contributions from the devotees for their financial needs. However, the contributions made by the local peoples towards the Satras are the highest. The government donations comes for undertaking projects like construction of Guest houses, museums, libraries, cultural auditorium, branches of Satras at different places, etc. However, these flows of funds from the government are not on yearly basis. Donations from devotees form a considerable part of the total revenue of the Satra. Donations from public come in the form of both cash and kind. The donations in kinds were forwarded in the form of mustard oil, rice, dal

etc. and those donations soared in during Rasleela, Palnam, etc. The Satras also had thousands acres of lands which were also a source of income for the Satras. The land is used for agricultural activities, the products of which is distributed to the Bhakats and the surplus products is sold in the market at the current prevailing price. In a recent step, government had also taken a part of land on lease. In return, the govt. pays a lease amount annually to the Satras as told by the Satradhikar of the New Kamalabari Satra. Other income of the Satras include sales of coconut, rice, betel nut etc. that are produced within the Satra campus and their respective lands. Moreover, the Dakhinpat Satra, Auisti Satra & Kamalabari Satra have tea gardens on the land of their respective Satras which they used as their earnings and becoming a small tea grower. Thus, in brief, the main income received are from the land revenue, followed by contribution from the disciples, tea gardens and other sources. Sometimes, the various NGOs too made some donations to the Satras by fit and stars. However, every Satras maintain proper books of accounts and vouchers to authenticate expenses. This is done by the Bharall, the accountant.

The very existence of the satra is a matter of great importance, more or so in the light of the fact that they contain manuscripts, artifacts and antiques of immense historical value and this depends on the proper management of its financial resources. The fund management includes the scope of proper acquisition utilization of resources, balancing various stakeholders, regulatory changes and a host of other considerations.

I sincerely acknowledge the contribution of those persons who spend valuable time to supply necessary information and for their generous co-operation in response to my queries. I would also like to thank my wife, Sangita, who actually created

the skeleton of this article and insisted on documentation regarding the tour