Description of a Satra

An Assamese Vaisnava Satra proper consists of a square enclosure wall, varying according to its strength, with four openings or gateways called karāpāt (Skt. kapāta), and containing four rows of huts or four long houses, each divided into a number of rooms at the sides, and the central temple, composite of a shrine called manikut or bhāj-ghar and an assembly hall. The four rows of huts or long houses with sets of rooms on the sides are each called a hāti, a ‘row’ (Skt. hatta, a fair with rows of shops).

“The buildings of the Satra are approached by a good road which is constructed at some expense. The namaghar is a huge structure, the roof of which is supported on huge wooden pillars and the great floor-space is entirely bare save for one or two lecterns on which the sacred writings are reposing. The actual shrine is a separate building closely adjoining the eastern end of the namaghar. The shrine is very different from the penetralia of the sakta temple. There is no trace of blood or grease; there is nothing disgusting or grotesque and the whole place is dominated by the note of decency and propriety. In a square around the gardens stand the lines of huts in which the resident monks live. They consist of well-built rows of rooms which are much more spacious than those ordinarily occupied by village folk and are kept scrupulously clean. There is something singularly gracious and pleasing in the whole atmosphere. Everything is fresh, neat and well-to-do. The well-groomed smiling monks are evidently at peace with themselves and with the world at large and even little boys that flock around them are unusually clean and well-behaved. The children are recruited from the villages and trained to be devotees, but if at any time they find the restraint of celibacy irksome, they are at liberty to return to the outer world.”

“The Satra was formed by a range of continous houses on three sides of a square, the principal buildings occupying the centre. Tall tamul (betel-nut) trees, thickly set, were in the rear of their houses, covered with what is quite indispensable to almost every Assamese, the pan leaf. The appearance of the place is good compared with the country around.”