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    The objective of the project is to study and photographic documentation of the lifestyle of the young monks by primarily focusing on their educat… Read More
    The objective of the project is to study and photographic documentation of the lifestyle of the young monks by primarily focusing on their education system both inside and outside the satra. The aim was to highlight their overall development. And to show that they are not only into the religious practices inside the satra but also have a life beyond the confined of the Satra. Such as, going to school and emersion in culture through music and dance. Content edited by Jolly Saikia. Cover Artwork by Nicholas Pegu. Read Less
Little Bhakats (Young Monks in English) is the outcome of the final Graduation Project at NIFT, New Delhi. The aim was to study and photographic documentation of the lifestyle of the young monks in Uttar Kamalabari Satra of Majuli, Assam.
The word bhakat or monk gives a crude image of an individual clad in a piece of cloth and devoting his life to prayer and meditation. Giving up on earthly possessions and family relationships, monks are conceived to be devoid of any hedonism one begets since the beginning of life including adopting the practice of celibacy. This had been my conception too, until I ventured out for the current project, did I get a clearer picture of everything that is related to the life of Satra monks.

The very first thing that caught my eyes was the fact that Satra monks have a way different life than that of any other kinds of monks (like that of Buddhist). As my project involved studying the life of the younger generation of bhakats or monks (3-17 years of age), I focused on their daily life starting from how they came to live there. I was told that often when the elder monks visits different places on account of religious or cultural practices, they look for children with unique qualities such as patience, devotion, understanding, thoughtful, etc. And they offer the families to raise them in Satras as bhakats. Other with economical constraints or religious faith in the Satra culture, also send their kids to be raised in Satras. There are other reasons such as beliefs in treating of ailments as a result of the Satra way of life also makes people send their kids to Satras at a very young age such as 3 or 4 years old. These kids are then raised in the Satra way of life. They are not only taught the religious practices but also cultural customs and traditions for which they are to carry forward later in life.
Mriganga, the most recently arrived and also the youngest monk (while I was there), was sitting outside the Naamghar on a Sunday during the prayer. The note he is holding is a token of love given by some visitor.
Prabhat while adjusting his Seleng (a piece of fabric which is used to cover the upper body) during prayer practice.
Rupjyoti playing Khol (the drum) during the evening prayer.
Bitupan (left) and Niranjan (right) while practicing Khol (drum) lessons.
Younger monks were performing evening prayer in the Naamghar.
A group of young monks before performing Mati Akhora (a dance form which depicts the sacred bond between Guru and the students that involves various yoga positions)
Prabhat (front) and Hemchandra (behind) during Mati Akhora.
The young monks were taught to do asana or physical exercises involving the body being seated on one place to which it is believed to be the basic steps to learning the art of connecting to the Mother Earth and making one’s body flexible to perform the various cultural performances as well. Apart from prayers and devotional songs, these young monks also learn to perform bhaona or drama, dance forms, etc. which attributes to their education. They practice these as rituals from the moment they enter the Satra life and continue to hone their skills as they grow up.
Younger monks performing Bahar Nritya (a dance performed by Krishna, Balabhadra and Gopa Balaks in Vrindavan).
An elder monk applying make up on Shyam for his role in Bhaona (A dance drama and a form of story telling).
Sankar after his makeup done for the Bhaona.
Satya was performing Sutradhari Nritya in the Bhaona.
Parama, on a role of a prince in the Bhaona.
Sankar (left) and Mohan (right) enjoying a community feast.
Young monks are on the way to their school.
The unique part about their life is that both their psychological as well as behavioral tendencies are molded along with rest of their cultural upbringing. The Satras also give equal importance to academic fields as well. Starting from primary education, the monks encouraged to go for higher studies. During my visit, I noticed that schools were established within a distance of a kilometer each, throughout Majuli. I met quite a few monks who had received their Masters and even PhD degrees from reputed colleges and universities.
Sankar (center) along with his school friends during the morning prayer in school.
Niranjan (left) while reading out a chapter for his class in the school.
As much as the cultural identity becomes a part of their psyche, I realized that the young monks are not attached to the digital world like we are. Although they use electronic gadgets such as television, mobile phones, computer, heater, inverter, iron etc. they do not become dependent on them while making judicious use of the same. They play outdoor games a lot such as cricket, football, etc and it was intriguing to me that kids of such young age could detach themselves from the digital world at a time when toddlers today play games on I phones and play stations.
Bisnu while playing hide and seek with his fellow monks.
Each monk has their assigned duties of daily chores that involve cleaning, washing their own clothes, taking care of domestic animals, cooking fodder for the same, etc. They are taught to be benevolent and humble in nature while considering all human being equally. They help each other out without any sense of selfishness. The Satra way of life gets embedded to their own and eventually their personality shapes likewise. The cultural domain is also the primary focus of their learning as they would later become torchbearers of the future Satra dharma.
From taking bath to changing into traditional attire and finally having breakfast before going to school is the usual routine of every young monks.
Niranjan (left) and Lakhiram (right) were posing in front of my camera while going back to their Boha after the evening game.
The happy realization came to me when I lived and studied their way of life that they are not so different from other kids in terms of education and upbringing but instead they are culturally enhanced than the rest of us as they practice the authentic and original forms of Satra culture throughout their life. Hence their forms of dance and songs are much different with a sense of authenticity than the otherwise commercialized methods of celebration, as they consider their customs and practices to be a way of devotion in the Vaishnavaite belief of non-idol worship. These young monks are the trail blazers of the Satra dharma in the future and it was truly an amazing and insightful experience to have learnt about the life of these little monks who are training to be tomorrow’s cultural mentors.
The Book
Cover artwork by Nicholas Pegu.