Majuli island (majuli , Assam)


This is a travelogue on majuli – a part of Textile and bio diversity trail organised by exotic echo (contactexoticecho@gmail.com)

In a NUtshell:

A wonderful trip to the World’s largest inhabited river island in mid of river Brahmaputra, Assam – a slice each of history, nature, food, performing arts, creative art and immense warmth of its people.

Short description- in case u r in a hurry

It takes an hour’s boat ride to reach here. You can take your Car from the mainland onto the boat for driving around in the island.

The story of this place – In 1600s a group of people moved in here under the guidance of social reformer Sankardeva, who set up centres of prayers and education. These Centers were called satra (pronounced hotro in Assamese language). These satras are fully functional even today and the tradition flows. At one point there were 65 satras in Majuli. As of today there are only 20+ left in Majuli as most have relocated to other places.

The island is facing severe challenge of erosion & has reduced in size significantly over the past few decades. Authorities are trying to put up embankments etc. but that has not resolved the problem yet.

We experienced the satras in different ways – we attended some prayer sessions, a dance performance, a lunch and also made a trip to a traditional mask making workshop that is related to the satras.

The mask making workshop was run by Dr. hemChandra deb goswami, who was conferred an honorary doctorate by Guwahati university for his innovations and for keeping this 400 year old art alive

The lunch mentioned above was a lovely saatvik meal at the boha (residence) of a grihasthi satra. Read about the experience here.

We went to a Mising tribe’s home and attend a traditional dance performance while sipping ‘home made rice’ beer from last month’s produce of rice.

An unforgettable lunch at the home of a deori tribal family, in their traditional home made of bamboo. The house was built on stilts, that would squeak every time we walked, yet the house was airy, spotless clean and very well maintained. The lady of the house gifted us a traditionally woven cloth when we were leaving, which she had woven herself. Read about the experience here.

We then visited a motorable bridge made of bamboo – ‘few hundred meters’ long bamboo bridge on which vehicles could pass a river, migratory birds chirping in the background. We loved it so much that we visited this place in the evening again. the birds were gone this time. The boatmen were now singing songs / playing folk songs on radio or maybe even YouTube.

All 3 evenings we enjoyed Beautiful sunsets. Onway to majuli, near the Majuli ghat and on the bamboo bridge.

We were blown away by the skills of Two ladies at a potter’s village where clay pots are made without the traditional potter’s wheel.

A dance performance by the bhakts of a udasin boha left us mesmerised.

& of course the beautiful scenery everywhere….

Detailed description – in case u hv the time to njoy reading:

To know about Some very interesting demographics about majuli pls click here:

  1. 79% literacy rate, higher than Assam state literacy rate

2. 99% hindu population

3. Only 39% from general caste, 14% from scheduled caste and a whopping 46% from scheduled tribe.

4. As high as 43% of women population here are working to earn a living.

in the following section, every thing mentioned above is described in more detail , with more pictures & videos.

Satra

Lord vishnu is worshipped in the Satras and hence Vaishnavite tradition is followed here and also in most parts of the island. Most food in these satras are cooked in Vaishnav tradition and hence it is vegetarian and there is usually no use of onion & garlic.

Each satra has a male head (satradhikar)and practising followers who live in the satra (bhakts) and general followers who lead a normal life outside the satra and regularly visit a satra (shishyas). For the bhakts Food is served in the satra and prayers and classes are conducted in the ‘namghar’ (prayer hall).

The prayers are a mix of chanting, singing and also dancing. We sat thru a performance by a group of bhakths who played dholak and danced, to offer prayer.

There are 3 kinds of satras – Mishra, udasin & Grihasthi

Misra – the satra head cannot marry but others can.

Udasin – all satra members (male only) are Celibate. All men grow long hair, are always clean shaved and over time many of them develop an effeminate way of movement. They behave as if they are wife of lord vishnu. In terms of diet, they are strictly Satvik vegetarian (no onion, no garlic).

Grihasthi – whole family lives in the satra – man woman child.

Mask making:

In the 1600s, after the satras were set up, Sankaradeva started propagating his views to common people thru preaching, songs, dance forms and plays that would take place at the namghars (prayer hall) of the satras.

The plays had characters from the mythology. At some point, the look of the characters would not come up as good just by face painting or make up – coz many of the characters were animals, birds, demons etc. So the idea of a mask came up.

The base of a mask is made by strips of bamboo which is very easy to find here. To make a mask, First a bamboo strip structure like a face is made. On top of this structure, a layer of cotton cloth is attached, with river bank soil as a base to smoothen the surface. Then shaping is done, with additional clay and cowdung mix, at areas that need specific shape. This is followed by drying, final layer of cloth and clay and finally painting. For these reason the masks are light weight and do not burden the performer.

The family of Dr. hemChandra deb goswami, has been making & keeping this art alive for the last 400 years. Dr. Goswami himself added a lot more innovations to the masks and hence he has won many national awards. One of the innovations was masks whose mouth can open while the character speaks.

Natural colours were used to make these masks.

Dance show at a Mising tribe’s house:

Usually in tourist locations, the local performers come to a common location and perform. In this case it was reverse. We went to their home to experience the dance show.

The girls did the dancing, the boys played the music. One boy and one girl sang the songs. We did not understand the language but enjoyed the melody a lot.

All the performers wore bright coloured clothes woven by them with intricate woven designs. Predominant Colors were red, green, teal. The cloth was beautiful. We managed to buy one shawl from them.

The lady who sold us the shawl got her baby with her. The baby got quite perplexed seeing so many unknown faces. Here’s a pic.

They also served us rice beer brewed by them. A full can full of rice beer can for ₹100!!

Lunch at a Deori tribe home:

To read about this unforgettable lunch at the home of a deori tribal family, in their traditional home made of bamboo, please click here. She also packed some rice beer she had brewed, for the evening.

Lunch at a boha of a grihasthi satra:

On another day we enjoyed A lovely saatvik lunch at the boha (residence) of a grihasthi satra. To read about it, please click here.

Bamboo bridge:

The moment We heard about this, we were super excited and also quite unsure – ‘hope it is in working condition still – do not want to miss this opportunity’.

It was A few hundred meters long bamboo bridge on which light and medium motor vehicles could pass. The stilts were all made of bamboo. The base of the bridge was wood planks. The bridge is narrow to hold 1 vehicle at a time.

A group of people were collecting money from all vehicles, towards maintenance if the bridge.

The water body was quite clear. It had hundreds of migratory birds who were constantly chirping in the background. We loved the place so much that we decided to get back here for sunset in the evening.

During sunset the place became even more beautiful. The crescent moon shining in the clear sky, boatmen singing songs / paying local songs on radio, sound if the water, beautiful breeze ….. we enjoyed the unparalleled rice wine that the deori lady had packed for us, earlier in the day.

Potter’s village

At the potter’s village we were stunned to where clay pots are made without the traditional potter’s wheel. The pot was being first made on day 1, kept aside to dry. Instead of potter’s wheel, the lady wax using a plate to move it with her toes. See video.

On day 2 the lady would bring out the semi dried pot and then beat it up to bulge it and double the size. Never seen anything like this b4.

Movie premiere ‘the curiosity shop’ by shankar Boruah

While doing a tour of a satra, we saw a poster talking about a Movie premiere ‘the curiosity shop’ by shankar Boruah. Jahnu boruah , who joined us as a guide for a day, said that he has done a project with Shankar Boruah and invited us to the premier. The director himself was present for the screening and everyone from the satra was present. We got lucky as the movie talked about history & current times of Assam as it could probably not be more contextual.

La Maison de ananda

Our stay at La Maison de ananda – a traditional bamboo hut home stay started by a French couple and currently run by Rishong and his family.

The original house is fully bamboo made and has 3 single beds, a study table and a storage Almirah in the bedroom and an attached toiled with a hand pump in it. The hand pump draws ground water directly.

The house is on stilts and the only way to get up is to climb up a wood beam with small steps on it. Not recommended for people with knee problems. For the rest it is brilliant – all bamboo hut , as authentic as it can get.

They also have modern brick stay which has modern day comforts but nowhere romantic like the original one.

They serve dinner in the bamboo house called ‘rishong’s family kitchen’. Food is cooked here on bamboo and wood fire and served straight to the table. Open kitchen can’t get more open than this. Food here was authentic, simple and like home food – sometimes wow, sometimes great, sometimes just OK – not standardised. Watch out for a detailed review soon.

Loved a pin up board where earlier guests have put up currencies from their respective countries.

The boat ride to and from majuli

It takes an hour each way on the boat. It’s quite a sight. The boat was not the modern trawler kind but the traditional boat shape, wide enough to hold a car end to end.

The boats had a seating floor below and then one could choose to stand on the deck. We chose to stand on the deck.

See the video below to understand how basic the set up is, to get the vehicles on board.

The trip to majuli was in the evening. We enjoyed seeing the sunset from the boat. Occasionally we would see a flock of birds fly past. The color of the sky was stunning thruout.

On the way back, we took a morning ferry 930 am. This time we saw many river dolphins that kept us constantly in anticipation to look out for more. Beautiful breeze and lovely view all around made it a memorable journey.

We also saw some Chinese fishing nets – traditional nets that are hung from a bamboo / wood structure and then dipped into the water, to catch fish that is near the bank.

A lot of information about majuli has been provided by Jahnu Boruah, who joined us as a guide on one of the days – jahnuboruah@gmail.com

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