Last week, I had a chance to visit Majuli, on the Brahmaputra in Assam. Majauli is supposedly the worldâ€™s largest inhibited river island. Originally at 1200 square kilometers, its size has shrunk to 452 sq km due to erosion. It is estimated that it loses one-third of its crop land every year.
Though there are many theories, according to folklore, Majuli was created due to a massive flood arising out of Brahmaputra and Dihing rivers in Assam.
Majuli is one of the most important cultural hubs of Assam. It is the holy place of Vaishnavite religion and culture and houses many tribes and communities.
The island falls under the Jorhat district of Assam. To reach the island, one must take a government operated ferry from Neematighat in Jorhat, which takes an hour or so.
The island provides the ideal habitat for many birds and also witnesses the arrival of many migratory birds every year. Fishing is one of the main sources of livelihood for many tribes on the island.
As the spiritual and religious hub of Assam, Majuli had 65 satras. A satra is a religious and cultural institution which is concerned with the dissemination of the principles and devotional practices of Neo-Vaishnavism.
While there have been attempts to shift the flood prone satras to safer areas, due to floods and erosion every year, only 30 satras remain currently.
Auniati Satra â€“ It was established in 1653 at Auniati by Ahom King Jayadhwaj Singha. Auniati has been taken from the word Auni meaning betel leaf and ati meaning from a higher place
Mask-making is one of the oldest traditional arts in Majuli, which is mainly practiced in Chamoguri and Samuguri Satras, but artists of other Satras have continued this tradition too.
Kushabanta Dev Goswami of Chamoguri Satra won the Sangeet Natak Academy award in 2003 for his art.
Kushabanta Dev Goswami and his son Probir Goswami have kept the family tradition alive.
Weaving is also a traditional activity which is practiced by most communities on the island, but predominantly by women. Tribes such as Mishing, Deori and Sonowal Kacharis practice weaving.
A Mishing tribe woman weaving a Saree
As Majuli is a flood prone area, almost every house on the island is constructed a little above the ground with either bamboo or cement.