Life in the Satras: Customs, Manners, Ceremonials etc.

In the Satras, the Nām Prasanga (recital of Nāma) is generally held three times a day. In Satras owing allegiance to Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva, fourteen services are daily held: five in the morning, three in the afternoon, and six in the evening. This is in vogue since the time of Madhavadeva. The order of services and songs and hymns recited at a particular time is not uniform throughout all Satras. In some Satras, in addition to the ‘sublime songs’ (Borgit), songs and hymns composed by the originator of the particular Satra are also recited.

Besides these daily prayer services, congregational prayers sung in succession throughout the day or night are held on various occasions. This is known as Pāl-Nām (pāl=in succession). The above list of religious services are always observed collectively, ie, in congregation.

A guru is generally addressed by his disciples as Bāp (father), Ātā (Skt.=Ātman), Prabhu-Isvar (Lord), etc.


Fish and meat, with certain exceptions, are not taboos. Vaisnavas should not indulge in killing animals for the purpose of food but they can take meat of animals killed by others. Self-mortification on the one hand and self-indulgence on the other must be avoided.

“A devotee should be a tight-rope walker, balancing his way between the twin abysses of laxity and excessive austerity”. Of course, a large number of devotees, especially those who are admitted into bhajana are not in the habit of taking meat and fish. This is not because of any prohibition however.

The chewing of the tāmbula (areca nut) together with betel-leaf is largely in vogue. Areca nut and betel-leaf have a definite place in all religious and ceremonial functions. Guests are entertained primarily by offering tāmbula with betel-leaf. Whenever forgiveness for some faults is to be asked or an invitation is to be sent, a trayful of tāmbul and pān (tāmol-pānar sarāi) is offered to the person(s) concerned. This practice of offering trays containing tāmol-pān in all devotional and social dealings is widely prevalent in the Satras and villages. A disciple of the Māyāmara Satra at the time of initiation, is required to offer betel-leaf (pān) as a token of dedication of his life (prāna) to the Guru. To receive a piece of tāmol with a betel-leaf from a revered or respected person is considered as an act of great favour shown on the receiver.

Milk and its products are very liberally used. All vegetables, with few exceptions only, are allowed. Irritant and excitant food is generally eschewed by the devotees living in the Satras.

Occupations and Pastimes

Manuscript copying was a favorite occupation, so also the illumination of manuscripts. Other fine workman-ships in which the Bhakat excelled was the work in ivory and horn and in bamboo and cane.