Being a native of the Indian state of Assam, I have always heard tales about how vast and wide the Brahmaputra River is – like an ocean. But it was after I came to know of Majuli, did the tales became more concrete. Majuli is the world’s second largest river island, and only a river as vast as the Brahmaputra can harbor such a huge area of land within its territory. Though, through my experiences, I have gathered that – you do not really know a place until you have been there. So on a hot sunny day, my good friend Todi and I decided to embark on a journey of discovery towards feeding our curiosity about Majuli.
We drove from Kaziranga to Johrat, from where we drove for 10km to reach Nimati Ghat, the departure point for a photogenic over crowded ferry filled with cars, cows, bikes and numerous people to Majuli Island. Once at sea, the view was over whelming. It is said that civilization ends at the water line, then we enter the food chain. I couldn’t have agreed more. The beauty and the wrath of the mighty Brahmaputra comes together in a flux en route to Majuli. Desolated islands cross by, civilization seems like a distant dream, and you feel as if you are living the life of a character of a fantasy novel.
After two hours, the bank of Majuli is visible. I hear a distant chanting. Further, I see people in different stages of their lives, the young and the old – dancing, singing, and merry making in the name of God, as if age ceases to matter. I figure, it is a sort of welcoming gesture. As soon as we set anchor, the chanting becomes louder. Then a group of elderly men, clad in dhotis and armed with child like charm appear from the ferry, and suddenly there is peace and silence. Everybody around me begins to bow and I feel an immense rush of energy all around me. I go ahead and bow as it seems like the only thing to do. There was something very special about how suddenly and quietly it all happened, like an unexpected cameo by a reclusive, very famous star. Till date I don’t know who those people were but I respect that kind of enigma.
We drove towards our cottage and for the first time I saw the holy land of Majuli. The sun was setting in the distant horizon, and the land was covered with a thick layer of magical mist. Five kilometers from the port of Kamalabari lies the main village of Garamur. And on its green back-lanes was our cottage, “La Maison de Ananda”; translated as “The House of Happiness”, and it is indeed true to its name. Constructed by a French couple who fell in love with Majuli, it is styled like a traditional Mising bamboo hut and run by a warm and loving family. The landscape of the island consisted of a lot of farm land and patches of forest land and there was not even a single building in the island, rather houses made of bamboo could be seen everywhere; sustainable living. We slept early, exhausted from the journey.
The next morning we hired bicycles and headed out to the satras (Hindu Neo-Vaishnavite monasteries). There are 22 satras in Majuli devoted to the teachings of Lord Vishnu, mostly in the incarnated form of Lord Krishna. There is no idol worship or elaborate pujas held here. The great Assamese saint Sankardev introduced this Vaishnavite culture in Assam. The satras comprise of gurus or borpujaris and their disciples. Young boys even at an early age of ten are taught drama, dance, songs, and are induced with devotion and dedication for the satras. Inside the satras, there is a prayer hall called namgarh, where every morning and evening, kirtans and bhajans(hymns) are chanted in praise of the Lord. The other parts consist of rooms for disciples and their gurus. There is also a small museum of ancient Assamese artifacts. The best time to visit the satras is during the festival of Ras Mahotsav, held around the third week of November. Plays and songs are enacted mostly from the Bhawad Gita. Beautiful dances are performed by the monks wearing wind boggling attire.
The Island has a sort of magnetism, pulling all souls to its aroma of love. And just like everybody else who visits this Island, we too were bounded to stay longer than planned. And so, we ended up staying an extra day in Majuli just soaking in the sights and sounds, making a trip to the local Mising village, spotting birds and feeding ourselves with the local cuisine that tasted so brilliant. It was the good life; of no worries and absolute bliss and oneness with nature and the world. We ended up visiting unknown abandoned temples and smoking marijuana in chillums with Hindu wise men. We had forgotten about the world outside and felt as if we could spend our whole lives in this island of love.
Having spent the day exploring, I got back to the cottage, exhausted. There was too much to absorb, the satras were very enchanting-like unexplored fairylands. Our host, somehow sensed that, and brought us a jar of apong (a locally brewed drink) and said that, it was ‘on the house’. We cherished it till the last drop. Our hosts were beautiful people; much like family. We played with their children and learned a bit about weaving in traditional style, from the lady of the house.
It took me quite some time to acknowledge what Majuli was all about. Maybe it was the Vaishnavite culture along with its followers who never ceased to chant the name of Lord and Love, or maybe it was the power of 500 years of spirituality, or the code of love that everybody adheres to. Majuli indeed is a world in itself, where once you set foot; a part of you always gets left behind.