It was 8 am when I reached Nimati Ghat to board my first ferry ride to the world’s biggest river island called Majuli. Situated in the northern part of Jorhat District in Assam, this Island is known for its spectacular scenic beauty, its rich cultural heritage and multiculturalism. Majuli is one of the important cultural heritage sites of Assam. The geographical area of Majuli is around 500 square kilometers. Though it was nearly 1,256 square kilometers as per Government survey of 1891. Due to erosion, the island is shrinking day after day, which resulting in the change of shape of the island with each passing year. Anyway , with the shining sun in the sky, dancing waves in the river & with a bundle of excitement I boarded my first ever ferry to Majuli.
I was amazed to see how people were carrying their own vehicles on that same ferry. Though the cost of a ticket for each person is only 20 rupees, but if you are transporting your car/two wheeler in the ferry, you have to pay extra . Like for car , the cost will be 750 rupees and for two wheeler it’s only 75 rupees. I never experienced a ferry ride like this ever in my life. Though I knew it well that this ferry ride to Majuli was going to be a lot more fun.
As the ferry started moving towards the island, I could not stop myself from sitting on the rooftop to enjoy the pristine view of the Brahmaputra river. In that sun kissed morning, while sitting on the rooftop of the ferry, All I could see was the sparkling water beyond my horizon. I felt the immensity of the mighty Brahmaputra. When the gushing sound of the river, cold breeze and bright sunshine in the tranquility accompany you on your journey, it gets all the more exceptional. The feeling was surreal.
It was around 10 am, I finally reached the shore. It took approximately 1 hour from Nimati Ghat to Majuli. The landscape of Majuli was breathtaking. The lush Greenery, paddy rice fields, water meadows, and a variety of birds were refreshing. Everything was so peaceful out there that I felt as if time stood still for me.
Majuli is known for it’s practices of Neo-Vaishnavism which was introduced by Great Vaisnava Saint Sankardeva which has a profound impact on the socio-cultural life of Assam. He was a social reformer , philosopher and scholar from 15th Century. He had brought the ideas of unification of various ethnic groups which founded the basic fabric of caste-less social structure in Assamese society. This is a unique example of unity in diversity. One of the major attractions of Majuli are the Sattras (Vaishnavite monasteries) . The Sattra is a religious and cultural institution which practices Neo-Vaishnavism. Along with that , Sattras are also the center of cultural activities.
In the Sattras , Vaishnavas indulge in cultural practices through devotional music, songs, drama, and dance forms. These cultural activities are an integral part of the Sattras.There are approximately 31 Sattras today in Majuli and among them a few stands out for its incredible contribution to the cultural heritage of Assam. So , I decided to visit a few of them in my journey to this island. The very first Sattra I headed towards was Natun Chamaguri Sattra which was established around 500 years ago by saint Sankardeva . This Sattra has the worldwide acclaim in making exquisite masks.
Mask making craft is practiced by Bhakat ( monks ) in this Sattra from centuries. These masks are basically used in the religious Dance and Drama which is called “Bhauna”in Assamese language. These dramas are staged to aware people and disciples about the mythical character from Srimad Bhagwat. Generally , these masks are worn by the disciples or Bhakats (Monks) who participate in the drama to give the physical character of those religious characters. Apart from that , another form of drama is called Ankiya Nat. Next on my list was Uttar Kamalabari Sattra and this Sattra is mainly known for its cultural practices. This Sattra was established by Saint Sankardeva in 15thcentury. The Kamalabari satra has been a center of art, culture, literature and classical studies for centuries. One of the highlights of their cultural practices in Majuli is Sattriya Dance. Interestingly , Sattriya dance is considered as one of the main dance forms of India. Another prominent Sattra is Auniati Satra. This sattra is the epicenter of Vaishnavism and Satriya culture in Assam. More than 500 residents of vaishnas (Monks )practices Vaishnavism and other cultural practices in this Sattra. This is simply incredible.
In addition to these Sattras , Mujuli is also home to many tribal communities. There are almost 100 villages in this island which celebrates multiculturalism at its best. Among them , Mishing , Deuri , Sonowal Kachari, Nepali and Ahom are prominent tribal communities. But if I talk about the population of Majuli which is almost 2 lakhs now and out of which Mishing tribes share 18% of its population. Interestingly, while crossing one of the Mishing village I noticed their houses which were unique in nature. These are called “Chaang Ghar”
These thatched houses are basically made with bamboo stilts . Upper part of the house is used to live in and under which they keep their domestic animals . This particular type of architecture is basically used for protecting themselves from floods. For Mishing tribe , Brahmaputra is a river of sorrow as well as the river of happiness. It is said that “ Each house in Majuli has its own boat “ and I was amazed to find out the same in this laid-back island of Assam. I was spellbound .
After exploring the Mishing tribal villages , I headed towards the northern part of this river island in search of a village called Salmora village . This village is known for its pottery making industry as well as Boat making . Mostly inhabited by Kumar Communities, people of this community have been making pots for almost 300 years now, and surprisingly, they don’t use the potter’s wheel to make pots. Once you are in this village, all you can see are pots all around. This community is solely dependent on this pottery making for their livelihood. Every day almost thousands of ready pots are piled on a boat and transported to various markets in Assam.
While roaming around these villages , I noticed that every house irrespective of the caste , creed and social status has a loom . Weaving is another important aspect of the cultural life of people in that island. Traditionally , women practice the weaving for their utility purposes . But in the present scenario , hand loom cloths have not restricted to these villages in Majuli , but has a promising market in Assam.Apart from that , Fishing has been a traditional occupation for the Kaivatra Community in Majuli. This community solely dependent on fishing for their livelihood . Though other tribal communities like Mishing and Deory also practice fishing in a large scale. Inhabited by different kinds of communities , People of Majuli celebrate a variety of festivals. Cultural festivals are an integral part of their life. Among them Raas Festival , Holi and Bihu are famous ones.
I was enriched after visiting this cultural hub of Assam. An Island sitting on the lap of mighty Brahmaputra is not just the Biggest River island in the world , but a place which has much more to offer to the world of culture that gives a unique cultural identity to the island. From mesmerizing landscape to rich cultural heritage, Majuli is truly a place worth a visit. It was almost 3 PM and I was rushing to get into the last ferry of the day from Majuli to Nimati Ghat. Since I did not want to miss the sun set, I opted again to sit on the rooftop of the double deck ferry. The journey itself was an epic one .
While moving away from the island slowly , fading away those villages from my horizon, seeing people returning in small boats , I witnessed the transition of colours of the sky turning red from blue.In complete silence, all I could hear was the sound of water.And when the profound sound of those waves dominated the surroundings and I witnessed the reflection of the majestic sunset on the river, I wanted to freeze that magical moment forever. I was literally lost in time .
And I made a silent promise to myself to return to this incredibly beautiful island again.
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