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Shravanee Baruah
Date of Publish: 2019-02-27

Nature, culture and warmth of residents make Majuli a favourite destination for tourists and backpackers

 

World famous river island Majuli does not require destination marketers for its promotion. Natural beauty, hospitality of the island residents and rich cultural heritage make it a favourite destination for tourists and backpackers.

Majuli was a sub-division of Assam’s Jorhat district till it was bifurcated as India’s first island district in 2016. Located in the heart of the river Brahmaputra, Majuli is about 26kms away from Jorhat town.

It is very much accessible from Jorhat through ferries flowing either ways at an interval of one hour from 7.30am to 3.30pm. One can also travel to the island by bus via northern Assam town of Lakhimpur.

A large section of Majuli’s populations belong to Mising community. Surrounded by fields of lush green vegetation, yellow expanses of mustard cultivation and traditional “Chang ghars” (Houses built on raised platforms made of bamboo and wood ), Mising Villages are surely a treat to the eyes.

Most families there live on agriculture, mostly on rice cultivation. On a visit to one of the Mising families, I was offered “Apong” or rice beer, made in almost every Mising household. Apong is a prestigious offering of the colourful community enlisted as a Scheduled Tribe.

What still remains the highlight of my visit to the family is the warmth I received there. Not being financially very strong, all they could offer was Apong and when I refused to have it humbly, they strained over the fact that they could not feed me anything. However, deep down, I realised I was fed values, more precious than food. It kept me wondering and amazed that how, I, being a stranger, was accepted in the family in minutes. I was allowed to see the entire house, take pictures and videos without any hesitation and objection.

Chang Ghars have an elevated platform of 5 to 6 steps which keep the family protected during floods. The lower part of the house is usually used to provide shelter to animals that every household rears, and a part of it to the traditional handloom. Mising mekhla chadars are a special handloom product of the community. They usually charge a mekhla chadar by the cost of the thread needed to weave two sets of mekhla chadar or just demand a customer to buy them the thread for two sets themselves.

“We construct another elevated platform above this, when higher flood hits the place,” they say.

Satras as a Cultural Heritage:

Satras (Vaishanvite monstarties) make Majuli a nerve-centre of Assamese culture and can never be missed out in a visit to the river-island. Satras like Auniati, Dakhinpaat, Garamur , Uttar Kamalbari, Natun Kamalabari, Samaguri, Bengenaati are rich repositories of Sattriya culture and beacon first time visitors to island to revisit and explore the centuries-old Satra institution. The “mukha xilpo” or mask craft of the Samaguri Satra has gained worldwide popularity to the credit of Hemchandra Goswami, contributing to the enrichment of the cultural aspect of Majuli.

Uttar Kamalabari Satra: Established in the year 1673, Uttor Kamalabari Satra is a Satra of celibate Vaishnavas or Bhakats (monks) and has a resident population of about a hundred Vaishnavas. There’s a “Naamghor” or prayer hall, literally the House of Names, inside, whereas the Vaishnavas’ residences surrounds the campus. “Neither there is a definite age for a boy to devote himself to the Satra as a Vaishnav, nor to leave the life of a Vaishnav to enjoy the freedom of the society”, said a Vaishnav. “Boys come and go. People offer a child to serve in the Satra sometimes, otherwise it is orphans or so who get engaged. However, they are also free to opt out of this practice. When it is so, we bid them a formal farewell”, he added.

Young Bhakats are given the basic education on Performing Arts like Gayan-Bayan, Satriya dance and their formal education and their entire upbringing is also taken care by the Satra authority, the Vaishnav further added.

Auniati Satra: Established in the year 1653AD, Auniati Satra has a resident population of about 350 Vaishnavas presently. This Satra received royal patronage during the reign of the Ahom Kings. Besides the Naamghor, the huge campus of the Satra has a museum, Ancient Articles and Manuscript Preservation Centre, a pool and the residence of the Vaishnavas.

 

 

The museum was established in the year 1954 which showcases Srihastamuktawali, the first ancient book of dancing in India, masks and clothes used in Bhaonas earlier, handicrafts by the Vaishnavas, and other things of cultural and historical relevance.

 

Having a friend in Majuli, I stayed at her home for the trip of two nights and a day. Her family, who I met for the first time, was extremely warm and welcoming to the point that it totally felt like home. However, for anybody who does not have any good acquaintance there, can easily get a camp or lodging in Chang Ghars on payment. The locals of the place are very hospitable and approachable.

For people who love open sky, fresh air, beautiful sunsets, Majuli, surely is a place to go. It has a lot to offer beyond the natural beauty of the place- the people. A reply on my WhatsApp story from a friend saying, “Travelled all over Assam almost but never came across people warmer than in Majuli. Enjoy your stay”, stands true after my experiences of the trip.

Text and Photo- Shravanee Baruah

( Shravanee Baruah is pursuing Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication at the Centre for Studies in Journalism and Mass Communication, Dibrugarh University. She produced this feature as part of her internship at NEZINE. She can be reached at shravanee4427@gmail.com )

 

 

 

 

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