The Functionaries of the Satra
For the efficient management of the Satra and for conducting religious services regularly, several officers or functionaries are appointed to hold different branches of the institution. The number of these functionaries vary in number according to the size of the Satra. In big Satras, functionaries of four grades are found:
- Bar-Bhāgati, the chief reciter of the Bhāgavata
- Bar-sravani, the chief listener
- Bar-Pāthak, the chief reciter of the vernacular scriptures
- Bar- Nām Lagowā, the leader of Nāma Kirttana
- Bar-Gāyan, the chief singer
- Bar- Bāyan, the chief player of instruments
- Bar-Bhāndāri, the chief treasury officer
- Cāul-Bharāli, the granary keeper
- Guā-Bhāndāri, in charge of betel-nuts
- Bar-Āldhara, the head attendant
- Bar-Kākati, the chief clerical officer
- Bar-Medhi - represents the Satra in the village
- Bar-Khātaniyār, representative in the royal court or abroad
Most of the above functionaries are held in the highest honour. Besides the above functionaries of the highest order, there are hosts of other officers of the second, third and fourth grades working in different branches. The officers of the lower orders though immediately responsible to their respective heads are ultimately responsible to the Adhikār who can appoint or discharge them.
The Adhikār, also known as Mahanta, is the religious head and spiritual guide of the members under his religious jurisdiction. In some Satras like Barpetā, the Satrādhikār is elected by the bhaktas attached to it.
The future Adhikār (junior Adhikār) or the Dekā-Adhikār, in many Satras is appointed during the lifetime of the Head. He is trained up amidst the holy influence of the religious institution from his boyhood. In appointing or selecting the junior one, the boy’s mental and physical fitness is taken into account. In some Satras, there is no uniform rule as regards selection or nomination of the senior or the junior Adhikār. In some Satras, seniority of age is taken into consideration subject to certain limitations. In certain Satras, merit is the only consideration and seniority is not taken into account.
The Adhikār, once selected or elected, holds office for life. But in the meantime, if he behaves in such a way as not befitting his position and prestige, he may be removed from his office by the disciples. At the Passing of the Adhikār, usually the Dekā-Adhikār takes his position after a special ceremony of investiture.
The Udāsin or Kevaliyā Bhakats (life-long celibates) enter the Satra in their childhood. They remain under the guidance of the elderly bhaktas and remain as pupils for a certain number of years. When they are seen to make sufficient progress in the religious life and get acquainted with the monastic order, they are finally ordained. These pupils are to wait personally upon their seniors besides taking religious lessons from them. Such a probationary period being over, they are formally initiated into the order by the Adhikār of the Satra.
There are two types of Bhakats (devotees):
- The lay devotees living outside the Satra and generally leading a family life
- The celibate Bhakats known as Kevaliāa (Skt. = kevalin) living a monastic life within the Satra.
Considered from the point of the progress made in the path of devotion, the Bhakats may again be classified into two sections:
- Those who have not progressed beyond the stage of initiation (sarana)
- Those who have gone beyond it and are considered fit for the confirmatory bhajana.
The latter class of Bhakats lead a very disciplined and and scrupulously religious life and occupy a higher status in the hierarchy of the religious body. A bhakat of this class is generally addressed as Ātoi (Skt. = ātma). The term Ātoi should not be confused with the term Ātā. The latter is exclusively used in case of religious heads only, as such the term Ātā suggests more dignity and honour than the term Ātoi.
Those who are initiated at the same time by the same Guru develop a religious bond or relationship towards each other. They mutually address each other as Hari-Bhakat (brothers-in-faith, fellow devotees of Hari). The children of one address the other as Tāwai (Skt. = Tāta) and his wife as Āmai (Skt. = Ambā).
The nature of a Bhakat has been elaborately discussed in all the Vaisnavite devotional texts. According to these texts, a Bhakat should possess in addition to piety, humility, compassion and good conduct, the following special qualifications:
- Faith in the religion
- Indifference to other things like jnāna and karma
- Deep devotion inspite of hindrances
- Joy in the sacred names of Hari
- Paying honour to Vaisnavas
He should lead a simple life free from ostentation and cultivate indifference to worldly objects and avoid all kinds of luxury.
The Adhikārs are held in the highest respect not only by his Bhakats and disciples but by persons of all ranks and creeds also. In the case of the most influential Satras, the administrative head of the province has, on many occasions, exchanged ceremonial visits, and Lord Chelmsford, as Viceroy received them in a big durbār, during his visit to Assam.