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Historian duo in mission to save forgotten satras
- Priceless manuscripts and artefacts found in seven monasteries near Sankardev birthplace
Manuscripts being sorted out for preservation. Picture by
Sarat Sarma

Nagaon, July 15: In a state where the words “army” and “operation” mean only one thing, a history lecturer and an antiquity expert have formed a two-man army to launch an operation that is about preserving rather than destroying.

Operation Satras is an attempt to save the priceless legacy of 15th century Assamese saint-reformer Srimanta Sankardev in and around his birthplace, Borduwa, from slipping into oblivion.

Biman Hazarika of Dhing College and New Delhi-based museologist Bijoy Bhuyan intend to cover seven Vaishnavite monasteries (satras) — Kubaikata, Ai Lakhi, Aibheti Nasatra, Salaguri Leteri, Bali, Kuji and Ali Pukhuri Patekibori — during the course of their mission to save priceless manuscripts and other items dating back to the 17th-18th century.

Kuji and Alipukhuri Patekibori are in Morigaon district and the remaining five in Nagaon district. All these satras are close to Borduwa, from where the Bhakti cult spread across the region.

“Largescale encroachment and years of neglect by the government have led to the pitiable condition of these religious institutions. Till half a century ago, most of these satras were both culturally and academically rich. Our plan is to make the local villagers aware of the necessity of preserving the cultural and religious resources of these institutions. Through them we plan to save manuscripts, relics, sculptures and other objects,” Hazarika said.

Bali Satra was established by Sankardev’s most revered disciple, Damodardev, while Salaguri Leteri Satra owes its existence to Krishna Kanta Ata.

The origin of the other satras have not been documented.

Hazarika said encroachment was the biggest threat to Patekibori and Kubaikata.

Patekibori has no more than two hectares of land left, one-fourth of the original area. Kubaikata has only a yard in front of its temple.

Bhuyan, who teaches at Delhi Public School in New Delhi, has been making regular trips to Assam to continue the mission.

It helps that both Bhuyan and Hazarika hail from Nagaon.

Although Majuli island in Jorhat district is considered to be the cradle of the satras, the monasteries that were set up across the state after his death are no less important to culture conservationists like Bhuyan and Hazarika. The duo believes that these satras are on the verge of extinction because of government apathy and general ignorance about their importance.

“We have already found seven precious items at Kubaikata. These include a drum made of brass, a wooden statue of Lord Vishnu, a wooden pitcher and some manuscripts. These are in the process of being restored for scientific preservation with the co-operation of villagers,” Bhuyan said.

He pleaded for help to take the mission forward. “If people come forward to help us, I think our mission can cover all the religious institutions of Assam.”

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