Vaishnavite Tourism means tourism in various institution of Vaishnavite religion like the Sattras, Namghars and the Thaans. Vaishnavite Tourism as a new trend in the Assam Tourism.
Assam is a land of the Vaishnava religion. Great Vaishnava saint of Assam, Srimanta Sankaradeva formulated the doctrines of his own brand of Vaishnavism called ‘Eksarana Namadharma’. The Eksarana Namdharma faith spread far and wide in Assam, as well as some parts of North East India.
Eksarana Namdharma, as implied by the term, has three articles of faith- Eksarana (shelter beneath one God), Satsanga ( assembly of Bhakats for Bhakti) and Nama ( chanting as a means of prayer). Popularly called Mahapurushiya Dharma, it forbids the worship of idols and elaborate rituals while advocating an austere lifdstyle for the Bhaktas.
In the Vaishnava fraternity every individual was considered equal and neither caste nor religion was to be taken into account while inducting anyone into the faith. The prayer services could be conducted by any caste within the circle of Bhaktas and Mah-Prasad, or offerings, distributed amongst the congregation by everyone.
‘NAMGHAR’ is a unique creation of great Vaishnava Saint Srimanta Sankaradeva.
The community prayer hall, of a Satra, was duplicated in each village by the institution of ‘Namghar’, a revolutionary step in religious and social transformation. The ‘Namghar’ grew to be the centre of every activity of the village, the club where elders congregated each evening, a place for philosophical discourse as well as discussions on the affairs of the village, a theatre where the young and old performed folk or classical dramas, as also the village court where misconduct by individuals were weighed by the entire community and punishment imposed. In the final analysis, it was the moral standard set by the Satras and ‘Namghar’s which rescued the society of the Brahmaputra Valley from the religious excesses and depravity of earlier days and enabled the cultural renaissance to accompany religious reform.
There are a number of religious texts and books which are considered holy scriptures in Vaishnavism. For example- The Bhagawat, The Kirtan Ghosa, The Gunamala, The NamaGhosa etc. A unique feature of Assam Vaishnavism is the Sattra institution. The Satras of Assam are depositories of a large number of valuable religious and cultural documents and articles of great historical values. Sattra means- Satra + Tra= act of going to a sacred place, that means where deliverance of Sat(honest-pious people) is taking place is called a Satra. Here the Vaishnav (worshipper of Vishnu) maintained a celibate status and stent their days in austere living and constant prayers.
Sattras are monastries which represent the organisational set-up originally developed to propagate the Vaishnava religious and social ideals but which also become the centres for the cultivation and invention of all khnd of art and refinement. While the concept of the Satra had been developed by Srimanta Sankaradeva.
It is the institution which is to motivate the mind of the people through the ritual peformances to realise the existence of supreme power, various performances, ‘Ankia Bhaona’, ‘Dances’, ‘NamPrasanga’, ‘Gayan Bayan’, Prayers, religious festivals like- ‘Ras Yatra’, ‘Palnaam’, ‘Sanskara’, etc. are regularly held.
A typical Sattra Intitute is made up of several structures- Namghar and Manikut, Gurugriha, Bharal, Vaishnav griha Sarihati, Karapat, Atithishala, Natyashala and Bhogghar.
The Satradhikar is the chief of a Sattra. He is responsible for management and conservation of the Sattra.
Some major Sattra institute of Assam are Auniati Sattra, Dakshinpat Sattra, Garmur Sattra, Benganaati Sattra, Samaguri Sattra, Kamalabari Sattra etc. Sattras are depositaries of performing arts- dance, drama and music. Some major art and craft of Satras are- Hengul Haithal painting, Mask Culture, Pottery Culture, Bamboo wor ks, Wood Sculpture.
The classical dance of ASSAM is called SATTRIYA DANCE. Because it is take shape in Satra Institute. The Satriya dance was first introduced by great Vaishnava saint Sankardev in 15th-16th century. Madhabdeva and other desciples of Sankardev also introduce some dance. The Sattras of ASSAM also introduce some dance individualy. The introduced this dance to popularise the Vaishnava religion.
Some important dance forms have been given here:-
Dhemalir naach, Sutradhari naach, Gosain or Krishna naach, Behar naach, Bhangi naach, Rasar naach, Chali naach, Jhumura naach, Nadubhangi naach, Natua, Ojapali, Apsara etc.
Vaishnava saint Sankaradeva is the creator of a unique dramatic form, the Angkia Bhawna, which were written in Assamese, Maithili and Sanskrit. Since dance and music plays an important role in his dramas, he was also an innovator in that art form.
Sankardev translated several cantos of the Ramayana and the Bhagawata, compiled a number of episodes and wrote plays and songs. To perpetuate the recital of Vaishnava classics and the performance of dramas, and the spread of Vaishnava teachings. He established monasteries in Assam, and his desciples carried the torch of Sankardev’s gospel to different parts of Assam by the processes initiated by their master. The Satras are still in existence and age has not staled their sanctity and popularity.
Poetry was not the only medium of propagating the Vaishnava cult. Brajabuli prose was introduced in the dramas.
Angkiya Bhaona is an integral part of Vaishnava culture. Plays written by Sankardev an Madhabdev are depicted in a drama form. The several Satradhikars and Vaishnava scholars are also wrote and directed many dramas. The names of the drama written by Sankardev was Sihna Yatra, Kaliya Daman, Keli Gopal, Ram Vijay, Rukmini Haran, Parijat Haran, Patni Prasad.
Actors clad in gorgeous dresses to enact the various mythological figures. Actors also ware mask in face and body, where character demands.
Govt. introduced Batradova-Madhupur tourist circuit project, which aims to connect the places featuring cultural legacy of great Vaishnavism exponents Srimanta Sankaradeva and Madhabdeva, has got the necessary approval and sanction from the Government of India. With a total budget of around Rs eight crore, this tourist circuit would facilitate a seamless tourism to various satras and other places and institutions of religious and socio-cultural importance to have an essence of Vaishnavism in Assam. This tourist circuit includes Coochbehar, Madhupur, Barpeta, Hajo, Batradowa and Majuli.
Majuli is a place steeped in the rich tradition and culture and boasting of a glorious heritage. With the establishment of Vaishnava Saint Srimanta Sankaradeva and his chief disciple Sri Sri Madhavdeva in the 15th century, Majuli emerged as the crowning glory of Vaishnavite culture in Assam. The most remarkable feature of Majuli, apart from its aura of spiritualism in a totally pollution-free environment, is its colourful mosaic of diverse ethnicities. A vibrant tradition of art and craft is an important component of the cultural continum of Majuli.
Music, Dance, and Drama were the basic media deployed in propagating the monotheistic philosophy of Vaishnavism. The self taught artisans of Majuli can transform a small piece of wood or bamboo to exquisite works of art. Basketry, ivory, silver filigree works are but a few of the traditional crafts still being practiced on the island.
Majuli is the world’s biggest river island and a principal place of pilgrimage for the Vaishnavites of Assam since the Ahom days. There are several other Sattras of the Vaishnava religious creed. Of these holy seats, Auniati, Dakhinpat, Garamur and Kamlabari are the four most prominent. What is of special importance is its Sattra establishment that consists of separate structures built for different purposes.
This Sattra is located in the heart of the Barpeta town and attracts devotees from all over the State particularly during Holi (the festival of Colours) when Doul festival is organized and so are the anniversaries of various Vaishnava Gurus. The buildings within the Satra premise are architectural achievements in their own right. The Kirtan Ghar of this Sattra is considered to be the largest in Assam. The Three Guru Asanas are placed in this building in honour of Shrimanta Sankaradeva, Shri Madhabdeva and Shri Badula Ata. The two Sattradhikars sit behind the Asanas to hold Nam-Prasangas regularly. Numerous buildings are located within the premise covering an area of 20 Bighas.
Located near Barpeta town, this is a Sattra that played an important role in spreading Vaishnavism and reformation. Shri Madhabdeva founded this Sattra and composed the Bhakti Ratnakar and Namghosa here in the original Vithi of the Sattra. The great saint during his sojourn here also dug a well that is preserved till today: the water is considered holy. The Three Guru Asanas are placed in the name of Srimanta Sankaradeva, Shri Madhabdeva and Shri Badula Ata.
This Sattra was established by Shri Madhabdeva. The common people were greatly influenced by the teachings of this great scholar. The Sattra eventually became an important centre of learning.
This Sattra is located 2 km north of Barpeta town. The Sattra is frequented by large number of devotees and visitors. It was a cultural centre from where Sattriya culture, art-forms and literature spread far and wide. Vaishnava Gurus like Shrimanta Sankardeva, Shri Madhabdeva, Shri Damodardev and Shri Haridev stayed in the Sattra for the propagation of the Vaishnava faith. Shrimanta Sankardeva lived here for 18 long years and composed 240 Bargeets, Shastras (literary religio-cultural text) and Ankiya nat (Dramas). The scripts are carefully preserved here. Of late, the Government has taken steps for preservation of this treasure of Assamese heritage and has planned to set up a Shrimanta Sankardeva Museum at the premises of the Sattra. The Damodardev Sattra is also located here. The Ahom ruler, Pramatta Singha constructed a ‘math’ in memory of the saint in these premises.
The Sattra was established by Sri Madhabdeva, who stayed here for more than 18 years. The Vithis of Shri Ram Ata and Shri Ram Atoi are also preserved here. A number of ‘Sachipat Puthis’ composed by Shrimanta Sankardeva are preserved here. This Sattra is located within the radius of Barpeta Municipality.
Bordowa is the birthplace of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankaradeva, the great artist, author, dramatist and founder of the Vaishnava Religion of Assam. The place is situated 18 Km North–west from Nagaon town, There are two Sattras here; one is Narowa Satra and other the Salaguri Sattra. There is a mini Museum in Narowa Sattra. The Phakuwa Festival and the Birth and Death Anniversaries of the Vaishnava Saints are observed here with great fervour. The Dhoporguri Sattra was established by Mahapurush Madhabdeva in 1857, and is another holy place in this area. Gokarna, Vikarna and Swargadwar are some of the numerous holy places around the complex.
Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar, Jorhat
Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar is a place of worship located in Jorhat district of Assam. This holy centre was established by Sri Sri Madhavadeva during 1528 AD (Or 1450 Sak). This has now become one of the important destinations for Vaishnavite pilgrims.
Located at a distance about three and a half kilometres from National Highway 37, Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar, a place of worship of Vaishnavite religion in Assam, has become one of the most popular destinations for pilgrims. It is said that this place of worship was established by the saint-reformer Mahapurush Sri Sri Madhabadeva during 1528 AD (Or 1450 Sak) at Dhekiakhowa village under Jorhat district on the bank of the stream Buridiha. Since then, this ‘namghar’ has been continuing as an important centre for Vaishnavite religion. Madhabadeva was the main duty bound disciple of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankaradeva, pioneer of the Vaishnavite religion to Naam Dharma.
Guru Madhavadeva after taking up the duty of reforming people and spreading the Ekasharan Nam Dharma came to stay in this small and very poor village. He took shelter for the night at the hut of an old woman, who served him rice with Dhekia Saak (believed to be poor men veggy, but a very popular and tasty one). The old woman was very embarrased to have served the Saint Guru like this but he was immensely pleased by the dinner. So he started a namghar there and given the responsibility of kindling the earthen lamp to the old woman. That is why the namghar was later known as Dhekiakhowa namghar.
Vaishnavite lamp in Dhekiakhowa Bor Namghar lamp has been kept burning for 484 years. The ‘Gurucharitra’ written by Sattraadhikar (Chief Monk) of Kamalabari Satra in Majuli Island about 300 years ago had mentioned about the lamp being lit by Madhabadeva.
Athkhelia Namghar, Golaghat
Athkhelia Namghar has always occupied a very important place in the hearts of Assamese religious people. Athkhelia Namghar is situated at a distance of about 20 kms from Golaghat town.
According to the legends the history of Athkhelia Namghar dates back to the period of 1670 to 1681 which was a crucial time for Ahom kingdom. At that time Ahom kingdom was ruled by Lora Roja. He in order to secure his position as a king of Ahom kingdom ordered to maim all Ahom prince of that time by making them physically disabled so that they cannot ascend the thrown. Gadapani one of the Ahom prince of that time in order to save himself from the clutch of Lora Roja, took shelter in Nagapahar. At that time he came across the ashram of a saint which was situated at the place where Athkhelia Namghar stands today. He took shelter at that place. In 1681 when he becomes the King of Ahom kingdom he entrusted the task of maintaining and preserving this sacred place to eight selected Khels of that area.
Madhupur Than, Kochbehar, West Bengal
Madhupur Than, Kochbehar, West Bengal. It is also known as Madhupur Sattra nowadays. Srimanta Sankaradeva, the founder of Eka Sarana Nama Dharma predicted in 1550 during his second pilgrimage that a holy institution would come up here. Madhupur Than at the present location came into being in 1594 at the initiative of Madhavadeva.
Beside the Kirtanghar, there is a 105 feet tall Math in the Than. It was constructed in 1964 with a grant from the Government of Assam. Holy relics of Srimanta Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva are preserved in this Math. This has made the Than more special. The devotees perform prayers in the hall of the Math in front of these relics. The seat of Srimanta Sankaradeva is kept at the eastern side in the Math. So the altar is on the western side there unlike in the Kirtanghar.
Many relics of Srimanta Sankaradeva like his rosary, footwear, jar, remains of yarn used in Vrindavani cloth, manuscripts etc are preserved in the Than. These are shown to public on two occasions in the year. These are kept on display for several days at a stretch from the day of Raas Purnima.
There is a centuries old honey comb in the Than. Srimanta Sankaradeva had predicted about the setting up of an institution here after he had relished honey at this very site during pilgrimage. The palm tree in the campus is several centuries old.
Prime Festivals of Vaishnavism:-
Raas Festval:- celebrated month of November in all Sattras and various places of Assam.
Sankaradeva Birth Festival:- celebrated in month of October in all places of Assam
Bhada Mahiya Nam-Kirtan:- one month Prayer celebrated at all Namghar, Sattra & Thaan in the month of 16th August to 17th September.
Paal Nam:- celebarted in few Sattras of Majuli and Namghar/Sattras of other places of Assam.
Phakuwa Festival:- Festival color Phakuwa or Holi is celebrated in Barpeta Sattra, Borduwa Sattra and other Sattras of Majuli and other places of the state. In the month of February-March.
Sri Krishna Janamastami:- In all Sattras, Namghars, Thans of all places of the state in the month of August.