The sanskrit word Charaiveity - means "Keep Walking" in English.

Random musings on my wanderings and everything under the sun.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Majuli: Where time stands still

Majuli is one of the largest river islands in the world (it is not the largest). Created by the river Brahmaputra - in the state of Assam, Majuli is the centre of the ancient monastries or satras instituted by the disciples of Sankardeva the saint who united Assam and brought the culture of Vaishnavism.

The island is only reachable by boat and maybe this makes the place isolated and pristine.One has to reach Majuli by taking a boat / ferry from Nematighat about 15 Kilometers from the Tea city of Jorhat which is also the nearest airport. There are few ferries in the morning to Majuli which return in the afternoon and vice- versa.

Pic: Ferry crossing at Nematighat - embarking point for Majuli

Majuli's location on the Brahmaputra basin makes it highly fertile. The play of water and land also makes this land attractive to various water birds. This island is rich in paddy and various vegetables. Agriculture is the mainstay of the island.


While there a number of Satra's I shall give a brief on some of them below:

The most fascinating Satra is the Uttar Kamlabari Satra which traces its origins to 1643, started by a disciple of Sankardeva it is founded on the principles of ' Karam Dharam' i.e. all the needs of the satra are met by its own assets and labour and it would not depend on royal patronage of the Ahom kings. To this day the Satra makes good with its own farms and dairy which keep the satra afloat.

Pic: Entrance to the Shri Uttar Kamlabari Satra

The monks spend their time in prayers and debating the Srimad Bhagvatam an ancient text of the Vaishnava school of thought. The Satra is highly acclaimed in the fine arts particularly in singing and dance. All the monks of this satra are celibate and single. They live in the monastery quarters and are free to attend regular schools or colleges. But they actively take part in the cultural programs.

Pic: 'Gayon Bayon' performance at the Shri Uttar Kamlabari Satra

They follow the guru - shisya paramapara. The warmth and hospitality of the monks and their amazing trust will floor you completely. They will warmly take you around their quarters , show you their scrapbooks and memorabilia. The members of this satra have performed in many functions in India and abroad. The pride of place is their performances in various festivals in Paris.

Pic: 'Nach (dance)' performance at the Shri Uttar Kamlabari Satra - all artistes are men

The Semaguri Satra specialises in the art of mask making. The masks are used for several plays and performances. These masks generally feature the various characters of the Ramayana. One can see how the masks are made and also some of the students will show you how the masks are used in the plays. The students change their body language with the mask they wear and it is very absorbing to watch them get into the skin of their character within minutes.

Pic: Shoorpanaka from the Ramayana displays her charms (Semaguri Satra)

There are many other satras most notably Auniati and Garumur with their own philospohy and tradition.


 Majuli is also home to the Mising tribes common to Arunachal and Assam. Their unique thatched huts are very intresting and a visit to the Mising village is highly recommended. Their is a Mising shop where you can buy Mising handicrafts and garments.

Pic: A Mising family outside their home

Majuli is under severe threat of erosion. This one word Erosion is understood by everyone. Almost half of the island has been lost to the swirling waters of the Brahmaputra in the last few decades taking with it the land and its unique culture. No one seems to understand the fury of the river and why this is so. Theories range from the dam construction in Tibet to global warming but there are no definitive root causes.

Pic: All this was once land - Erosion in Majuli
Travel Tips

1. Accommodation: There are no large hotel chains here but some very interesting stay concepts:
a) Prashanti Lodge of Assam Tourism is a good option. Standard.
b) Mising Council has a series of Mising houses in a resort that can also be rented for an atmospheric experience. Though the accomodation is a liitle far off.
c) La Maison de Ananda: another Mising style built home stay type hotel
d) Uttar Kamlabari Satra: has some basis guest houses

2. Travel within the island is feasible by bicycle or bikes but the roads are pathetic. It would be best to hire a car and see the satras and other places. later one can always walk around and see the closer places.

3. Most tourists come for day trips but staying at least one night is highly recommended.

4. Satra performances happen during festivals like the Raas festival. On other days one should enquire at the Satra. If there are enough tourists the Satra organises programs. A nominal donation is expected. Personal experience is about 100 Rs per head seemed quite reasonable for a 30 minute demonstration though one can always pay more.

Overall this place has been untouched and is highly recommended for a unique cultural experience.