Byaskuchi Satra, Sabha Mahotsav and Saptadinga | a documentary by Rajumani Deka

A beautifully decorated gateway at the entrance of a sacred place. The pictures designed on the gate will take you to the higher world of spiritualism. Entering through the gate, one can see a big 'Namghara'. The walls, the floor and the stout posts - all splendidly express sign of anciant 'Sattriya' culture. Looking at the image of deity, based upon a big lotus, whose mind won't be full of devotion?

This is the 'Byaskuchi Satra' (a vaishnavite monastery) in Assam, India. Not a very famous one, but adorned with the holy footprints of great saint Shree Shree Baikuntha Nath Bhagawat Bhattacharyya, also known as Bhattadeva, a chief disciple of Shree Damodardeva, another Vaishnava saint. . 

Established by great Bhattadeva himself in 1550 shaka, Byaskuchi Satra is the matter of prestige for every native of Byaskuchi. Bhattadeva first translated the entire Bhagawata scripture into Assamese prose. He wrote great books like Katha Bhagawata, Katha Gita, Katha Ratnawali and Bhakti Viveka in the 16th century. He took the charge of Patbauchi Satra after Damodardeva. Later he left Patbauchi Satra and established Byaskuchi Satra at his place known as 'bahar ghar' on the banks of river Chaulkhowa, a tribuitary of river Brahmaputra. He stayed there until his death in 1560 shaka.

During the Ahom reign, this Satra received landed estate from the kings. But in the course of time, the ancient satra started losing due care and interest. In 1943 Bhattadeva Milan Samitee was established for better managment of the Satra. On 15 dec, 1999 it was shifted from the site of establishment to the current place. 

The death anniversary of Bhattadeva is being celebrated in this Satra for the last 68 years on the 7th lunar day of the 9th Assamese month every year. This is organised by Bhattadeva Milan Samitee. This is the great festival of Byaskuchi Satra and so called Byaskuchi Sabha Mohotshaba, a five-day event. 

The programmes include namkirtana, sacrificial fire in the name of god and a thoughtful meeting atteanded by intellectuals. Apart from these, a colourful fair, cultural night, kholia bhaona, mobile theatre etc are also arranged.

The sacrificial fire is also called Homa. The interior of Namghara shines by the light of the holy lamps. The committee members remain busy. As a tradition of the satra every family of Byaskuchi extends co-operation in the form of money, crops and firewood.

In the evening, the Bhagawata of satra is revolved for 7 rounds by a rally comprising of priest and devotees.
Next day is the day of sacrificial fire or homa. On this occasion, a group of people travel along the roads of the village singing spiritual songs early in the morning. This is locally termed as prabha ferry.

Temporary gates are made for the festival at both the entrances of the satra. A temporary office of the celebration committee is made inside the festival ground. A unit of volunteers and the local police are involved for maintaining law and order.

Later, in the morning, the devotees arrange a sacred prayer and travel along the village once again singing spiritual songs. It's called Bhagawat yatra. This is to receive humble solicitation of the people and to cast blessings to them. Later the rally enters Namghara.

Next arrangement is Naam-kirtana participated by lots of devotees. Males and females sit in separate groups and recite spiritual songs called 'Naam' founded by Srimanta Sankardeva. People come in group and lit holy lamps wishing peace and prosperity and seeking blessings from God. The prayer ends with distribution of Prasaad among the people.

In the evening a thoughtful meeting is arranged where eminent personalities from the society take part and deliver their valuable speeches. A yearly souvenir named Baikuntha is also released on this occasion. A cultural night is arranged where eminent singers and musicians of the state participate. Cultural groups from different parts of the state are invited to perform their show. With this the first day ends.

A colourful fair is arranged on this occasion in the yard of Namghar. It comprises of colourful stalls, handloom exhibitions, circus and many other measures of recreation. A part and parcel of the festival is the famous dhulia (Assamese drum players) culture. They perform for all the 5 days entertaining the people. A talent competition is also arranged among the students.

The most attractive part of the festival is the mobile theatre. Famous mobile theater groups of Assam are invited to perform for 4 days. Tickets are booked early from the morning and their performances are viewed by a huge collection of audiences.

In the midnight, the historical Kholia Bhawona (local theater) is performed. This can be enjoyed free of cost. Parties (theater groups) usually come from Kamrup and darrang district. They have been performing traditionally in this festival.

After 5 days busy and exciting celebration the festival comes to an end. On the last day, the members of Bhattadeva Milan Samittee and all others take part in a public feast.

This is how the festival of Byaskuchi Satra is celebrated. This festival is special for every people of Byaskuchi satra because it brings feelings of devotion,unity and brotherhood among them. Hope, in near future, Byaskuchi Satra will shine up with its own glory.

Concept, direction & cinematography - Rajumani Deka; Script - Dr. Gunajit Deka; Narrator - Ipsita Duwarah; Still Photo - Khanjan Deka; Music - Hirak Jyoti Baruah & Rajumani Deka; Special thanks - Ramani Kanta Deka, Sarada Bala Deka, Syeda Rahat Tonzim, Jim Ankan Deka, Dr. Kankan Jyoti Deka, Arnab Jan Deka, Minhaz Zaman, Dhanjit Deka, Mantu Deka, Dhiru Deka, Banajit Deka, Ratul Deka, Rubul Haloi and Patbausi Devo Damodar Sanskriti Samaj.

Watch the documentary here