|Area||421.65 km² (2001)|
Majuli or Majoli (Assamese: মাজুলি) is a river island in the Brahmaputra river, in the Indian state of Assam. Majuli is often erroneously cited as the largest river island in the world by the Indian media, but in fact it is merely the largest freshwater island in South Asia. Majuli occupies an area of about 422 km², having lost significantly to erosion.
The island is formed by the Brahmaputra river in the south and the Kherkutia Xuti, an anabranch of the Brahmaputra, joined by the Subansiri river in the north. The island is about 200 kilometres east from the state's largest city — Guwahati, and is accessible by ferries from the town of Jorhat. The island was formed due to course changes by the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries, mainly the Lohit. Majoli is also the abode of the Assamese neo-Vaisnavite culture.
The island soon became the leading centre of Vaishavinism with the establishment of these satras. After the arrival of the British, the island was under the rule of the British till India gained independence in 1947.
Handloom is a major occupation among the distaff population of the villages. Although largely a non-commercial occupation, it keeps many of the inhabitants occupied. Weaving is exquisite and intricate with the use of a variety of colours and textures of cotton and silk, especially 'muga' silk.
The dwellers of Majuli are mostly tribal folk. These tribal are the mishing tribes from Arunachal Pradesh and who immigrated here centuries ago. Apart from them, the inhabitants are also from the Deori and Sonowal Kacharis tribes. Languages spoken here are Assamese, Mishing, Deori. The island has twenty-three villages with a population of 150,000 and a density of 300 individuals per square km. The only mode of association to the outside world is through a ferry service which operates only twice a day. Despite inherent drawbacks faced, modernism has touched this island, with the setting up of medical centres and educational institutions. Housing too, has segued from traditional bamboo and mud construction to ones made of concrete.
The heart of all villages is the Namghar, where villagers episodically gather to sing and pray. It is the most important public place for the villagers. After the rituals are complete, villagers decide here on issues concerning the village such as auctioning of fishing rights, what to do with money raised, and other topics of significance to the community as a whole.
The inhabitants are expert navigators by boat; their expertise is most visible during the monsoon season when they navigate the turbulent waters of the Brahmaputra. Extremism is also a major concern in the region. The insurgent group the ULFA, has a wide network in the region and was responsible for the execution of social worker Sanjoy Ghosh who was trying to uplift the people of the island.
Virtually every single person on the island is involved in the three-day long 'raas' festival, depicting the life of Krishna. People from hundreds of kilometres away come to celebrate this festival including a number of expatriate members of community. The satras have also honed certain art and craft traditions, which can now be found only here. In Natun Samuguri satra for example, one can still find the craft of mask-making; and in the Kamalabari satra the finest boats are made.
The island has been the hub of Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture, initiated around 15th century by the revered Assamese saint Srimanta Sankardeva and his disciple Madhabdeva. Many Xatras or monasteries constructed by the saint still survive and represent the colourful Assamese culture. The saint took refuge in Majuli and spent a couple of months at Beloguri in West Majuli, which was a place of grandeur for the historic and auspicious, 'Manikanchan Sanjog' between Shankardeva and Madhavdeva, this was the first satra in Majuli. After the "Manikanchan Sanjog", sixty five satras were set up. However, today only twenty-two of the original sixty-five still survive. Sixty-five out of the six hundred and sixty-five original satras in Assam were situated in Majuli.
The main surviving Xatras (Satra) are:
These satras are also the treasure house of "Bongeet" Matiakhara, satriya dances (Jumora Dance, Chali Dance, Notua Dance, Nande Vringee, Sutradhar, Ozapali, Apsara Dance, Satria Krishna Dance and Dasavater Dance), all promulgated by Srimanta Sankardeva. It has also become a center for shuddhi in the Northeast of India, due to the efforts of Pitambar Deva Goswami.
A wetland, Majuli is a hotspot for flora and fauna, harbouring many rare and endangered avifauna species including migratory birds that arrive in the winter season. Among the birds seen here are: the Greater Adjutant Stork , Pelican, Siberian Crane and the Whistling Teal. After dark wild geese and ducks fly in flocks to distant destinations. The island is almost pollution free owing to the lack of polluting industries and factories and also the chronic rainfall.
The island is under threat due to the extensive soil erosion on its banks. The reason for this magnitude in erosion is the large embankments built in neighbouring towns upriver to prevent erosion there during the monsoon season when the river distends its banks. The upshot is a backlash of the tempestuous Brahmaputra's fury on the islet, eroding most of the area. According to reports, in 1853, the total area of Majuli was 1,150 km² and about 33% of this landmass has been eroded in the latter half of 20th century. Since 1991, over 35 villages have been washed away. Surveys show that in 15-20 years from now, Majuli would cease to exist.
To save the island, the Union Government of India has sanctioned Rs 250 crores (US $ 55 million) for the protection of the isle. A petition has been sent to the UNESCO for the declaration of Majuli to be a world natural heritage site and furthermore make it a world cultural heritage site.
On the north-bank is the river Subansiri and on the South bank, the mighty Brahmaputra has excided the island from the main land. Lakhimpur town is to the North and Golaghat is to its southwest. The town of Sibsagar is on the southeast and Jorhat is to the south. On the extreme east is Dibrugarh District.