The Majuli River Island

माजुली नदी द्वीप

Majuli is one of the largest river islands in the world. It is situated in the river Brahmaputra in the state of Assam, India. It is of great historical importance and has a rich culture, which is currently under threat due to extreme erosion. Majuli used to be the largest river island in the world (2016), but due to the erosion some river islands in other places of the world are now larger.

In the 1890’s the island had an area of around 1,250 square kilometers but since then the Brahmaputra has reduced the area to less than 400 square kilometers. According to the Majuli Island Protection and Development Council the whole island may disappear entirely in not so many years. Erosion on the southern side of the island has increased since 1950 constantly reducing the area of the land, eroding many villages and Satras. This has greatly affected the demographic pattern, ecology, environment, social structure and economic growth on the Island.

Majuli has several Vaishnavite monasteries called Satras, some dating back to the 16th century. Majuli is considered the center of the Neo-Vaishnavite culture and has the highest number of Satras in Assam. Neo-Vaishnavism is a religion and philosophy dedicated to Krishna (a major deity in Hinduism and a form of Visnu). As it believes in one God, it is known as “Ekasarana Dharma” (literally: “the religion of taking shelter in one”). The Satra institution was founded by Srimanta Sankardev (1449-1568).

The culture of the Satras includes liturgical training, and dance, drama, music and poetry. The Satras are divided into two groups based on the monk’s marital status, the Grihasthya Satras and the Udasin Satras. The word udasin means a life of an ascetic (indifferent to worldly materials). Monks from Udasin Satras lead a celibate life. The Satra monks are called bhakats.

One of the largest and most prominent Satras is the Uttar Kamalabari Satra. The Satra belongs to the Kamalabari school of Satras established in 1673 by Bedulapadma Ata. The Satra is famous for its dance performances.

The government of India has nominated the island of Majuli for enlistment as UNESCO World Heritage site (in the Cultural Landscape category).

See also the image captions for some additional information.

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