Majuli is the largest fresh Water River Island in the world,
situated in the upper reaches of the river
Assam. This landmass, with a population of 1.6
lakhs, majority being tribals, has a very rich heritage and has been the
abode of Assamese Vaishshnavite culture with tremendous potential for
spiritual and Eco-tourism.
The island is a bio-diversity hotspot and has rich ecology with rare breeds of flora and fauna and is a part of a major migratory path for Ducks, Geese and other birds. The population contains a wide mix of tribal peoples, including Ahoms and Kacharis; the Mishing and Deori tribes inhabit upper Majuli.
The Assamese Vaishnavite Culture
Ferries run twice a day from Nimatighat, 12-km north of Jorhat, to Manjuli, which holds several important Vaishnavite Sattras. At present there are 22 Sattras on the island, including those in Garamur and Kamalabari, but one has to travel a few kilometers out of Kamalabari to see some of the more interesting ones.
Although the origins of Majuli may be uncertain, it is known for a fact that the social reformer Sankardeva visited the island in the early 16th century. Sankardeva propagated a form of Vaishnavism that was simpler and more accessible than the ritualistic Hinduism of the time. His approach was rooted in faith and prayer, and stressed on the cultural aspects of life and living.
This cultural ambience is not confined to the Sattras alone. Every village on the island, whether tribal or non-tribal, has assimilated these traditions in daily life. The central point of all villages is the Namghar; where periodically people gather to sing and pray. It is more than a temple - it is a sacred meeting place as well. Usually after the sessions of reading and discussion, the members of the Sattras will get together to decide on matters concerning the village community.
A Harmonised Living
In this day of individualism, Majuli still preserves the notion of the community. Among the majority Mishing community, who migrated from the Arunachal hills many generations ago, traditions of Ali-Ay-Ligang (the harvest festival) are still preserved, and different ethnicity have been living together peacefully for generations.
Pottery -The Art Of Primitive Times
Pottery in Majuli is probably the single most important heritage of all. Pots are made with hand from beaten clay and burnt in driftwood-fired kilns. Only the womenfolk in the village labour to shape the pots with hand. Finished pots are ferried up and down stream on country boats for barter trade. According to the archeologists this has to be a missing link between Mohenjodaro & Harappan civilization. Elsewhere in the world potter's wheel reigns supreme; but Majuli still retains its link with the long dead past. Thus, Majuli is a living archeological museum in its own right.
The Sattra at Auniati, 4-km west, keeps Royal artifacts from the Ahom kingdom and has an interesting collection of Assamese handicrafts and jewellery. While Bengenati, 4-km east built in the early 17th century, has a very friendly caretaker who is happy to show visitors around Shamaguri.
6-km beyond Bengenati, is a centre for making clay and bamboo masks - sculptures in their own right - used for traditional festivals and performances. Other interesting Sattras can be found at Bongaori, 8-km beyond Shamaguri, and Dakhinpat 5-km south of that. Majuli has recently been recommended for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the Indian government.
Air: Majuli's nearest centre is
Jorhat which is well connected by air, with
daily flights from Guwahati, and four
flights a week from Calcutta
Rail: The nearest railway station is situated at Jorhat.
Road & By Boat: From Guwahati, Jorhat is a seven-hour bus ride and buses leave early mornings and at nights. From Jorhat it is only 14-km to Neemati Ghat. There are at least two ferry rides to Majuli every day, one around 10.00 am, the other around 3.00 pm. Exact times can be ascertained from the private bus stand at Jorhat, from where buses leave for Neemati.
The first ferry ride lasts about an hour - after that transfer to a bus for a ten-minute bus ride across Major Sapori, another island en route to Majuli. Then a short ferry ride, and yet another bus ride to Kamalabari, the main town on the island. One can also hire a taxi, either from Jorhat or in Majuli. The taxi can cross over on the ferry.
Most visitors have got the option to stay at the Circuit house in Garamur. In Kamalabari there is a small and very basic hotel, and the guesthouse in the Sattras have accommodation facilities too.
Lord Krishna is supposed to have played with his consorts in Majuli. Though thousands of miles distant from Vrindavan, one only has to visit Majuli during the "Ras Purnima" in the month of 'Kartik' (October - November) to experience the zest of this festival. Virtually every single person on the island is involved in the three-day long 'Ras' festival, depicting the life of Krishna.
Every village hosts its own, and people who have left Majuli return to take part in the song, dance, theatre and merriment. And the language that is used is 'Brajavali', the tongue of Mathura. In Majuli, the days of Bhawna and Ras are special, with thousands turning out all over the island to watch and experience.