Sattra is a formalized institution of Sattriya Sanskriti & culture, principles. These are Vaishnavite Monastries to carry forward the legacy and the teachings of heavenly saints Mahapurshas. They are custodians and the preservers of Vaishnavite culture from 16th century onward, without diluting the sanctity and the piousness of the way of life propounded by the two great saints, i.e, Srimanta Sankardeva and Sri Sri Madhabdeva. The word “Sattra” signifies a place, an institution, a home, a “Tirtha”, an assembly of saints, getting together for the development and reformation of the weak, sinners willing to undertake the path of refinement and glory. It is the religious monastery, established by Sankardeva, Madhadeva and their disciples as well as their kith and kin. Some Sattra were established during thier life time and some aftermath of thier heavenly departure. The primary objective of such an endeavor was to preach and teach the Vaishnavite culture and religion. It was also endeavored to promote the philosophy of “Ek-Saran-Naam-Dharma” in these monasteries and weave the society with the single-minded devotion to “Hari” by singing, chanting and practicing Vaishnavite teachings and creations. The magnanimous efforts of the great Saints thus brought about peace, unity and mutual respect among people.
It was in the Sattra that the great creations of Borgeet, Sattriya Nritya, Onkiya Bhaona were performed to praise and demonstrate the devotion to Lord Vishnu and His many avatars. While doing so, Sattra became the fertile ground for assimilation of diverse thoughts, talents and minds who participated in the so called movement of “Dharma-Prasar” by pervading all differences of caste, creed and religious alignments. The cultural milieu provided the platform to discard hatred, differences in mindset and bridge the primitive wrong doings. There lies the success of the Sattra in the development of the society from medieval thinking to a culturally ingrained assembly of great people.
The impact of the creations were so powerful an lasting that these became the way of life for some people in modern times, many of whom have taken up these as their profession to name a few like Indira P.P.Bora (Sattriya Dance exponent), Dr Pabitra Pran Goswami (who took a doctoral degree by writing a thesis on Borgeet) and others. Apart from cultural and religious aspects, Sattra have at times, emerged as courtyards to discuss and address judiciously some of the social disputes and evils and even providing solutions to such disputes so as to maintain peace and harmony in the society and among different communities. Despite traversing through many forms and ages, Sattra have so far maintained its sanctity with a socio-religious cum cultural status and as the basic unit of the great Assamese Societ.
Naamghar the most important socio-cultural institution of the Assamese society was introduced by Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva in the fifteenth century. The main purpose of Mahapurush Sankardeva and his followers was to spread the Vaishnavism in Assam. In order to fulfil that purpose, Mahapurush Sankardeva established Sattras and Naamghar as an indispensable arm of a Sattra. But now-a-days, the existence of the Naamghar is not confined to the Sattras alone. In every Assamese village, there is a Naamghar.
“The Naamghar is an open hall for the purpose of offering mass prayer. The actual shrine where the idol or the scripture is generally kept in a separate house usually a bit higher but smaller in dimension. It is attached to the Naamghar adjoining the eastern the end of the latter. It is called, “Mani-kut” because the “Mani”, i.e the Jewel or the idol is kept there”.~ Dr. Satyendra Nath Sarma
Mahapurush Sankardeva and his followers propagated the movement of the Krishna-cult in Assam and as such devotees offer their prayer to Lord Krishna.
Krishnaya Basudevaya Doibaki Nandanaya Cha
Nanda Gopa Kumaraya Gobindaya Namo Namah
As per the prevailing Vaishnavite culture, “Singhasana” is placed in the Manikut (Amohi-ghar) of the Naamghar. The devotees believe the place as “Baikuntha”, where the Supreme Power, whom they worship, prevails there. Mahapurush Sankardeva also described as follows.
Bichitra Chandratapa ache tani~ Kirttan, Sankardeva
Arita Murari Mukuntamoni
Hena mandire ratna Singhasane
Achanta bosi Prabhu Narayane
In front of the main prayer hall of the Naamghar, a “Batsora” or “Korapat”, the entry gate, is constructed, painted and printed beautifully which enhances the beauty of the Naamghar. The Naamghar is primarily used for Nam Kirttan of almighty with Khol, Taal, Doba, Xonkha etc. “Naam” means chanting the names of Lord Krishna. The whole programme of praying God from early morning till might is called “Naam-Prasanga”. Naam prasanga is generally hold four times a day divided into fourteen services called “Chaidhy Prasanga”. This service of worshipping God is performed where where Borgeet, Naamghosa, Kirttan and Bhagawat are recited.
The most important contribution of Naamghar to Assamese society is its influence in forming a moral and spiritual character of the people. Mahapurush Sankardeva gave the society a way of life through the worship of Lord Krishna.
Hena Jani Sisusaba era aana Karma~ Kirttan, Mahapurush Sankardeva
Dhoiru Kumarkale Bhagawan dharma
Purlabha manusyajanma nakara biphal
Chintamoni madhavara Charana Kamal
Mahapurush Sankardeva was a great social reformer. The Naamghar was made open to people of all castes in the society. The people from all walks of life can sit and make religious discussions in the Naamghar. Many cultural activities are organized in Naamghar including the performance of Ankia Bhaona. In its true sense, the Naamghar is one of the outstanding social organization which helps to grow a sense of brotherhood among the people of Assam.
Many small scale industries had also grown up centered on the Naamghar. The most essential things of a Naamghar e.g, Singhasana, Xarai made of brass, lamp-stand (Gosa), Bhor-taal, Doba, Khol, masks made of bamboo, were made and they are very essential things for a Naamghar. Artists were of utmost importance for painting different “Avatars” of God on the walls of a Naamghar. Different religious matters were incorporated on Sachi-paat and indirectly everybody was economically benefitted.
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Srimanta Sankardeva and Sri Sri Madhabdeva’s crown jewel, Borgeets are devotional songs, sung (the act of ‘Kirttana) to the praise of ‘Hari’ (Lord Vishnu or Sri Krishna Avatara). The two great saints themselves used to refer to these songs as “Geet”; however, in order to recognize the musical grandeur of these songs, the prefix “Bor” was later added by their disciples.
Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhavdeva preached, Sravana (Listening to) and Kirttana (Singing). Borgeets are musical expressions, written in verse and meant for singing or chanting. Owing to this characteristic of Borgeet, they are forming an essential part of Naam Prasanga or Naam-Kirttana in the sattras and the village Naamghars.
The songs composed by both the Gurus that featured in their Ankia Naat’s are called the Ankar Geet or the Nator Geet. The difference between the Borgeets and the Ankar Geets is essentially thematic. Borgeets are prayer Geets, displaying the form of Bhakti, whereas the Ankar Geets are based on the various Ankos of a Naat and as such it would encompass a variety of themes, other than Bhakti.
Borgeet is so far not labelled as classical music as the Gayan process has still not evolved much; while trying to bring it out on the stage, its form has been much diluted to a simpler and modern adaptable style which shed the complexity of a classical form. However, Borgeets are based on Ragas, which depend on the time of day when they are being chanted. Also, Borgeets are performed as per the Talas associated with them.
The prominent instruments used while performing Borgeets are Khol and Taal. The Khol is a double-headed barrel shaped drum on which the Talas or the rhythmic compositions are played with both the hands. Whereas the Taal is played with the Khol to mark the strokes and the gaps of a Tala.
There are other Geets written and composed by the disciples and the followers of both the Gurus, but those have not been labeled as Borgeet, even though no such difference is maintained in the compositions. As already mentioned above Borgeets are based on Ragas. There are some 36 Ragas, found in Borgeets which are either unitary in nature or mixed or diverse nature, arising out of fusion of two or more Ragas. Again there are some Ragas, which are only found in Ankia Geet and not part of Borgeets. The principal distinguishing feature of Borgeet and other Indian classical forms of music like Hindustani, is Borgeet is an avid expression of Bhakti Rasa, while others can explore numerous moods or forms of rendition. In the context of the Talas, it comprises of three parts. The Ga-Bajana or the Mul-bajana is everywhere recognised as the main body of a Tala, which is repeated several times during the course of a geet or a part of it. The second part which is referred as a Ghata, indicating the completion of a Tala, temporary or final.
The third part of a Tala is known as Cak or Cok, which is essentially an embellished variation of the Ga-Man, is followed by the Ghat. Traditionally, an Artist performs a Borgeet in the following sequence: it beings with the Ghat, then the singer starts the Ga-man, which is then concluded with the replay of Ghat. Finally Cok is played, and Ghat is again repeated after it. It may however vary in performance, depending on the tradition being followed in various Sattras.
Total nos of Borgeets composed by Srimanta Sankardeva was 240, but due to an unfortunate incident of fire at one of his disciples place, most of those were burnt and only 34 could be salvaged from the memory of the disciples. This tragic incident deeply affected Sankardeva who at length decided not to compose any more Borgeet. Instead, he instructed his chief disciple Sri Sri Madhadeva to compose further. Mahapurush Madhavdeva, for his part composed around 191 Borgeets, of which only 157 could be found.
Note: This write up is extensively based on the materials of the research book 'Borgit: A Musicological Exploration' by Dr. Pabitrapran Goswami. Dr. Goswami is an exponent of Sattriya culture and has been carrying out thorough research on Borgeet. He has also been conducting several workshops in Assam to impart training on Borgeet recital.
An acclaimed creation of the great Vaisnavite Saints Srimanta Sankardeva and Sri Sri Madhavdeva was Sattriya Nritya, named as such, because of the fact that it has been preserved, cultured, nurtured and studied with academic pursuit in the Monasteries called Sattras. The uniqueness in its form and presentation, coupled with the art of story-telling through the form of dance, effervescent acting that transcends in the medium of “Mudras” and “Alankars”, now establishes the dance form as Classical form of dance in India.
The evolution of Sattriya Nritya originated from the dances of Ankiya Bhaona, a sacred creation of the Mahapurushas. Such a dance form emancipated through the act and dance of the “Suttradhars”, conceptualized by Srimanta Sankardeva. The Suttradhar is an integral part of Bhaonas who would summarize the entire story of the Naat or “Anko”, before start of the actual play. The art of story-telling by the Suttradhar is by the way of dance and singing.
However, realizing the potential of this inimitable creation, various scholars namely, Dr. Maheshwar Neog, Dr. Jatin Gowami, Rosehwar Saikia, Dr. Jagannath Mahanta made numerous attempts to put it in the national pedestal by writing, publishing and attending various seminars and conferences at national levels, by giving demonstrations with the help of Sattriya Nritya proponents and other scholars.
The greatest moment for this movement to establish Sattriya Nritya as a classical form of dance, came on 15th November 2000, when, under able leadership of the Great Bhupen Hazarika, who was at that time the President of Sangeet Natak Academy, Sattriya Nritya was finally recognized as a Classical dance form of India.
To commemorate the realization of this great feat, 15th November is celebrated as a Sattriya Sankskriti Divas by Asom Sattra Mahasabha in various parts of Assam and also in New Delhi from 2014 onwards
The creation of Ankiya Bhaona, which is a form of Nrittya and Drama with Geet, along with Khol and Taal as Music, is a unique creation of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva and Mahapurush Sri Sri Madhavdeva, during the 15th Century. The introduction of Suttradhar in Bhoana is also unique, through which the Ankiya Bhona was started. It is called Ankiya Bhaona becaue it consists of Ankos, which means “One-Act”. Ankiya Bhaona was used to demonstrate the inner meaning of the Bhakti Cult to the masses.
The geet in these Dramas are called “Ankia-Geet” or “Nator Geet”, which is based on many Ankas.
Mahapurush Sankardeva had created six Ankiya Bhaonas. Five of them show the “Leela” of Lord Sri Krishna and one showing the “Leela” of Ramchandra. The Naats namely :
Apart from these, Mahapursh Madhavdeva also penned down the following Naats, doing the “Gun-Gaan” of Lord SriKrishna’s childhood and Raas Leela :