Majuli Cultural Landscape Management Authority
...Promoting and preserving the rich heritage of Majuli

MAJULI CULTURAL LANDSCAPE - HISTORY

Different communities of Majuli Island and its surrounding areas (16th-17th Century)


Set amidst the mighty and the mythical male river Brahmaputra, Majuli is known as the oldest and the largest inhabited riverine island of the world. At present, it is an administrative Sub-Division of Jorhat District (1979) of Assam in the north east province of Indian Sub-Continent. Obviously Majuli is not a single island within a single parameter, but it is the combination of Cluster of islets formed and developed in the mid-river stream of the mighty Brahmaputra and its tributaries-the Luit & Kherkatia to the north & north east and north west extremity.

It is very difficult to ascertain the year or the period of the creation of Majuli as sufficient and convincing records are not available to support the views in regards to its history. However, on the basis of certain geographical evidences and literary accounts, it may be presumed that Majuli took its island's shape at least before the 13th century A.D. before Sukhapha's arrival at the Brahmaputra valley in the year 1228. It was formerly known as " Majali " which was situated in between the " Dihing " and the Brahmaputra. Another chronicle upholds that Koch-king Naranarayana sent his brother Chilarai to extend his kingdom towards upper Assam region. Dr. D. Nath in his book " The Majuli Island, Society, Economy and Culture " described that Koch king Naranarayana had made his camp at " Mojali " (Majuli) and it was there at the camp, that he had received the tributes and present from the Ahom king Sukhampha alias Khora Raja (1548-1563), WHO was defeated in the war. Pre-historic reference mentioned that the original name of the present Majuli was known either as " Majali " or " Mojali" and later in 1562, it was also called " Luitor Majuli " indicating the same area of Majuli prior to taking of its present shape. Another reference regarding the early existence of Majuli is found in " Yogini Tranta " that Chutiya king Ramchandra founded his capital in Ratanpur, Majuli which was perhaps washed away by the Brahmaputra. An early Assamese chronicle holds the view that during Sukhapha's arrival at the mouth of Dikhow he observed an isolated area known as Haboung. The Bodo originated term "Haboung signified a low lying flood affected area. So, we might believe that the geographical picture of the land indicated no other than Majuli, a part of which falls in between the mouth of Dihing and Dikhow. Apart from such legendary beliefs and chronicler evidences. We have early historical references of Majuli and its land area mentioned by historians and other biographers. King Aurangjeb's biographer Mahmad Kazim during mid-17th century estimated Majuli's land area as 100 miles. A. J. Mafat Mills recorded in " Report on Province of Assam" that Majuli island was extended to a land area of 2,82,165 acres in 1853. In another reference of British writer B. C. Allen in his "Provincial Gazetter of India" published during 1901, mentioned that Majuli's total land area was around 185sq. Miles and its population was 35000 only. According to a British doctor John Peter Wede, the island was 160 Miles long and 60 Miles broad (1927).

However, on the basis of historical and literary references the present Brahmaputra was flowing to the north of Majuli as pointed out by Sir Edward Gait. The Brahmaputra, according to Gait "flowed down the course of what is now called the Luit river, along the north of the Majuli island while the Dihing followed the present channel of the Brahmaputra to the south of it, and after receiving the waters of the Disang and the Dekhow united with Brahmaputra at the western extremity".

The exponent historian on Majuli, Dr. D. Nath holds the view that the land mass now encircled by the Brahmaputra on the north and the Dihing, Dikhow combined on the south took the shape of an island in its most embryonic form with the half dead mouth of the Dihing demarcating its eastern extremity. This historic event must have happened at least before the 13th century A.D.

Presumably, the human habitation in Majuli started from the period when the agrarian people were insearch of conducive and fertile soil. Majuli's land mass was regularly inundated by floods spreading sediments to its soil which made it suitable for growing paddy, mustard, sugarcane, pulses, jutes, garlics, potatoes and other essential goods. For existence of innumerable beels, wetlands, inactive river channels and sparsely scattered population, the entire Majuli's land area did not come to the notice of the settlers. Most of these were occupied by wild birds and animals. As per the land survey records of 1950 the total habitable landmass was 1245.12 sq. kms. Mysteriously the number of its population is increasing more than 1.35 lakhs during the post independent decades in Majuli.

The pervading beauty that envelopes the island all throughout the year later turned into a pilgrimage since the advent of Srimanta Sankardeva, who had been joined by Madhavdeva, the Chief Apostle, in Majuli's Dhuwahat Belaguri at the early part of the 16th century. Majuli began to excel from his historic event of communion (Manikanchan Sanyog) and subsequently ushered in the spreading of Neo-Vaisnavism across the entire island and the north east region of india.

PROPOSED RESOURCES