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Sat, 15 Dec 2018

Northeast Today

Majuli: A Palate on Brahmaputra

Majuli: A Palate on Brahmaputra
April 25
13:28 2018

March Edition, NET Bureau

“It’s our home, how can it disappear?” questions a confused11-year-old Sneha who resides on the world’s largest inhabited river island- Majuli. Snuggling in solitude in the middle of the Brahmaputra, some miles away from Jorhat, Majuli has been fascinating and intimidating for all that it has been sheltering. The families living on the island have witnessed the mighty Brahmaputra coming to their doorsteps and the islands surface area has eroded over the past few decades. They are confronting the mighty predicament at the same time holding on to the art, culture and their identities. The people of Majuli continue to perpetuate and construe different cultures through festivals, art, and cuisines. Chirasmrita Devi, in an expedition tries to churn out more of this mystically beautiful land.

Verset

The distinctive features that distinguish this island from others are the existence of different cultures. It can be dubbed as a hub of different cultures, especially the Assamese and Mishing tribe. The island primarily shelters people coming from these two communities. Whether it’s ‘Raas’ or ‘Aliyai-Ligang’, the celebrations cover the entire island with a blanket of festivity. On one side of Majuli, there are the followers of Neo- Vaishnavism on the other side the various festivities of the Mishing tribe.

The island has shrunk in size which is a matter of concern. The rate at which this island is diminishing, surveys are pointing towards its complete disappearance within a decade or two.

“We have seen the mighty Brahmaputra reaching our thresholds, we have seen our land erode, and we have seen the destruction. But we have also seen the beauty of the shores, the assimilation of cultures. So what if everything falls apart, we will put it up again”, says Deep Das, a resident of Kamalabari.

In spite of several efforts to check erosion, nothing much has changed over the years. With every passing year, comes the threat of disappearance as the chunks of the land is being swallowed by the mighty river. However, the flood and erosion could rarely stop the lives on the island.

“No matter how hard it is, we will put together everything,” Das adds further.

Hub of Cultural Renaissance

As it is known to all, the Neo-Vaishnavism cullture was initiated by Srimanta Sankardeva which eventually led to the extension of Bhakti movement in Assam. Giving a whole new dimension to the Assamese culture, Sankardeva led to what can be called as the cultural and spiritual renaissance of Assam.

Majuli is a celebrated land for the existence of the Satras. It is the protectorate of Vaishnavism. It is believed that once there were around 65 satras, but after the earthquake of 1950, only one-fourth of them remain. Though small in number, these satras are still holding the age-old tradition and teachings and propagating the same in the process.

“We want to propagate what we have, not only outside Assam but outside India. It is true that the teachings and preaching have not been promoted on a grand level. However, it would be wrong to say that it has not been promoted at all. We visited the USA twice, organized Bhaona and Paal Naam at places like Washington DC and New York. Programmes and lectures were also held in Singapore and China. We have been trying to promote it and we will keep doing it”, informed the satradhikar of Auniaati Satra Pitambar Dev Goswami.

The artworks of Majuli are contributing actively to keeping alive traditions and the stories attached to them. Samuguri Satra and its mask making practice is a quintessential name among the satras that are representing the heritage. The tradition of mask making has mbeen practised at the abode of the Goswamis since the mid 17the century. Be it bhaona or raas, the masks come alive on each occasion.

The practitioners of the craft informed that the process of mask making begins with a three-dimensional bamboo framework. On top of the frame, a cloth dipped in soil is coated. Contouring and detailing is done in the next step. Different types of fibres are used for making beards and moustache.

“This tradition has been running since the days of our ancestors. In 2003, when Dr Bhupen Hazarika was the president of Sangeet Natak Academy he had given the award to my father KushaKanta Dev Goswami. Since that award, this art form started gaining popularity. We perform Bhaonas at different places using our self- made masks. What we appreciate is the enthusiasm of the foreigners, they are very eager to learn the art form. The art is in our blood and we are trying our level best to keep the legacy alive”, informed the son of Dev Goswami.

What the ‘Chang Ghars’ Hold

Few kilometres from Kamalabari lay Jengraimukh where the Mishing community dwells. The ‘chang ghars’, in rows become quite a spectacle to look at. The ‘chang-ghar’-silted house with a thatched top style house with bamboos is their traditional style of the house. It helps during the flood as well. The tribe is known for their hospitality. The Mishing tribe is one of the largest ethnic tribes of Assam. However, the population has shrunk by only a million and a half inhibiting Assam and Arunachal.

“People here (Jengraimukh) live in harmony. We are very welcoming. However, it is sad that when people talk or write about Majuli, it’s mostly about the Satras. It would be a matter of sheer happiness if our community and our culture is equally highlighted”, says Dibyajyoti Pegu, a resident of Jengraimukh.

“We have a tradition to eat in a single plate. All the brothers would sit together and enjoy the meal from one plate”, informed Pegu’s uncle. “The youngest one has to bring the necessary requirements”, he further added.

Ali-aye-Ligang and Pohrag are celebrated by the community with great pomp and gay. The former being celebrated at the beginning of the harvest season, while the latter is celebrated after the harvest.

There are basically two types of rice beers or Apong- Nogin, and Poro. It is served to the guests.

Although the community is still holding on to their traditions, modernity has touched their thresholds along with the advent of Christianity. However, the first conversion dates back to the 1970s according to the locals.

Utopia for Tourism

The ever-increasing tourism market promised endless possibilities for nations around the world.

The existence of varied castes and tribes in the island provides a wide variety of options for the tourists to explore. Eco-tourism is a way of earning a sustainable livelihood and at the same time preserving the ecology of the place. Even India got a taste of it. In Majuli, there is an abundance of prospects for socio-economic developments with the growth of eco-tourism. Owing to its size and location Majuli is truly a biodiversity hotspot and an ideal destination for tourist. The fertile floodplains and the wetlands which have proved productive throughout the years provide an ideal environment for tourism.

With a motive to promote carbon-free travel, the Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC) took an initiative last year. According to the project, Cycles hued in orange would be launched for a carbon- free experience at Majuli. The project was said to be aimed at creating an environmental protocol for the tourism sector in the island. The project also claims to provide the tourists with a better experience of exploration of Majuli, its culture, folk literature, art, craft, and cuisines.

“Yes, there is a lot that can be done in Majuli. Eco-tourism can help in presenting and revitalizing traditions if Majuli. Moreover, additional revenues could also be generated. All these will eventually help to diversify and strengthen the communities”, opined Ananda Hazarika, a Professor of Majuli College.

With the lifestyle of various socio-economic traditions, food patterns of various groups, Majuli has tremendous scope for eco-tourism. The rich flora and fauna compliment the objective.

Conclusion

The threats of the extinction of the land are both due to man-made and natural causes. Ruling out the fractional and transitory changes affecting the demography of the island will be a mistake. However, the optimism and the attachment of the dwellers towards the island too cannot be ignored. Swallowed by the Brahmaputra, Majuli has become half its size. If the predictions of the studies and surveys turn out to be true, a magical land would wither from the bosom of Northeast.

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