The Spirit of Camaraderie in the Satra
The Neo-Vaisnavite Movement as a whole and the Satra institution promoted an atmosphere of fraternity among devotees across caste lines. The fact that they were Vaisnavas and formed the laity of the same or different Satras and are thus brethren, has been of more importance than caste affiliations. And this has also been of cardinal importance in the Satra way of life. This spirit of camaraderie is more vigorously evident especially in the celibate Satras where monks belonging to different castes (high and low) reside in the hātis (residential quarters), sit together in the congregational prayer and dine together on festive occasions. More significantly, this fraternal feeling has become a part of the Assamese village life in general. This has been one of the major contributions of the Sankaradeva Movement towards the Assamese social structure.
Madhavadeva made it a rule that two monks or two married proselytes should form special friendship (ishta mitra) and share their joys and sorrows, weal and woe, the things of their daily life as well as their spiritual wisdom throughout their life. In matters of illness and other difficulties too, this friendship must come to succour. We come across in the caritas a tale which illustrates how Madhavadeva stressed upon the idea of spiritual fraternity and sharing of weal and woe among the devotees:
And Jayānanda Ātoi fell ill. The other Ātois used to tell him from outside his cottage, “Ātoi, do not give up rice. Only rice can sustain your energy.”
All of them offered such piece of advice, but none would step on his threshold. Some of the monks told the Guru (Madhavadeva), “The old Ātoi is seriously ill and has stopped taking rice.” The Guru told Srirāma Ātā:
“Go and find out whom he relies on for help.”
When Srirāma asked this, Jayānanda replied, “ They have made friends in twos; I do not have any one. I rely solely on the Guru.” Srirāma told the Guru accordingly. The Guru again told Srirāma, “Go and ask him once more if he has shared love with anyone.” When the Ātā put this question to the Ātoi, he said, “I rely on the Guru alone.” Hearing this reply, Madhavadeva sent Srirāma once more, “Go and ask him if he exchanges things like betel leaves and vegetables with anybody.” On questioning, the Ātoi replied, “I do not give anything to anybody; nor do I take things from others. I have no friend other than the Guru.”
Hearing this, Madhavadeva took a pitcher of water in hand and a towel on his head, then stood up and said, “It is me, who must then move.”
Srirāma Ātā kneeled before the Guru and entreated, “O Bāpa (Father), when Lord Krishna took up his bow and arrows to fight with the hero Rukma, Visvaketu kneeled before him and said, “Why should the master move when the servant can do the (same) thing?” I am here, your servant; why should you, my master, go for this work?
” “Srirāma, will you be able to do the work?”
“Why not, O father?”
He went (inside Jayānanda's cottage) and found that the Ātoi had free motions of the bowels. Srirāma washed the bed and the clothes, prepared hot water and gave the Ātoi a warm bath, and cleaned the floor of the evacuations and plastered it with fresh soil and cowdung. The Ātā then cooked food, fed the Ātoi, keeping a little food for the evening meal, and massaged the Ātoi's body with oil and citrus juice. He then went back to report to the Guru who recited two verses extempore:
“What will one, who is not happy to have (company of) bhaktas, do if he attains to Hari? We may find Krishna's bhaktas from place to place; but bhaktas' bhakats are rare to have.” He then added, “O Srirāma, you have today bought me off with your deed.”