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Photos: On Assam’s Majuli island, monks keep an ancient tradition alive

Updated: Sep 12, 2018 12:26 IST

A young monk practices Mati Akhora, a devotional performing art at a Sat ra or Vaishnavite monastery in Majuli, Assam. The Neo-Vaishnavism movement started by Shankardeva in the medieval period focused on an egalitarian community and lead to a major renaissance in Assamese society. Over time, Satras became an important institution for socio-cultural exchange and propagating Neo-Vaishnavite values. (Anupam Nath / AP)

A teacher helps a young monk practice Mati Akhora which is the foundation of the Sattriya dance. The dance is generally performed in the namghar or prayer hall of the Satra and its themes center around Radha and Krishna-- sometimes other Vishnu avatars such as Rama and Sita. (Anupam Nath / AP)

A monk practices on the Khol, a traditional Assamese instrument. Vaishnava monks believe the way to salvation is through dance, drama and music. The young monks, many of whom come from poor families, perform the dances at Krishna festivals across India and around the world. (Anupam Nath / AP)

Vaishnavite practice is credited with preserving the culture of mask-making, an integral part of the dance dramas or Bhaonas. At the Samaguri Satra, the monks create three-dimensional bamboo frames and develop a contour using a mixture of clay, cow dung and paint to depict characters from Indian mythology. These masks are worn during Ras leela and Bhaona. (Anupam Nath / AP)

Traditional mask maker Hemachandra Goswami holds up a mask at Samaguri Satra. “Our Maha (great) guru Srimanta Sankardeva had established this art in the 15-16th centuries. He started with painting stories and that gave birth to Bhaona. The masks are essential for Bhaonas,” said 60-year old Goswami. (Anupam Nath / AP)

Artist Khagen Goswami wears a Hanuman mask. Not just ‘bhaona’ and ‘satriya’ dance, the Satra was used as an experimental ground by Shankareva and his students to spread knowledge of language, literature, education and industry. Apart from training in the arts and praying, the Satras also provide the young monks a secular education and teach them skills like to cooking and farming. (Anupam Nath / AP)

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