Majuli goes back in time – for World Heritage status

By Azera Rahman, IANS,

Majuli (Assam) : Stone bridges based on ancient architectural techniques might just be Majuli’s stepping stone to the World Heritage Site tag. Or so the Assam government is hoping as it spruces up the river island to enhance its “old world” charm – despite the odds.

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Single stone bridges, as the name itself implies, were bridges made of single blocks of stone by the ruling Ahom kings in the state in the 15th century. A remnant is still visible in Sibsagar district of Assam.

According to state officials, such single stone bridges will be built in Majuli in order to enhance its beauty and showcase the cultural heritage of the state to tourists and other visitors. The effort comes despite floods eroding the island bit by bit every year. Majuli is located 320 km east of Guwahati.

Swapnil Barua, secretary of the state cultural department, said: “The main aim of planning to build these bridges will be to maintain that Majuli is a place rich in heritage. It will be ensured that these bridges don’t have a modern look and instead have that old world touch.”

Besides the bridges, an ethnic village will also be built on the river island which will depict the life of the indigenous people of Majuli to outsiders.

Majuli, said to be South Asia’s largest river island, was first nominated for World Heritage status in 2004. Last year again the central government nominated it for the coveted title, but to no avail.

A land of natural beauty, for many Majuli is a spiritual destination since it is believed that Lord Krishna had played with his friends on this island.

Even as plans are on to enhance its heritage values after the monsoons, the river island is constantly fighting a battle against erosion caused by the flood waters of the Brahmaputra river.

To give one an idea, from the 1,250 sq km island that it used to be, all that remains of Majuli today is just 650 sq km. A number of Vaishnavite monasteries called ‘satras’ on the island face the risk of being destroyed by the floodwaters.

With this year’s floods being no different and one of its main monasteries – the Bengenawati Satra – being threatened by erosion, the island’s religious heads have been organising special prayer meetings to save the island.

Not confident on the anti-embankment plans, Phani Goswami, a resident of the island, said: “Special prayers are being offered to appease the river god so that our satras and the island can be saved.”

“All these modern methods are not helping much in saving our homeland from being eaten away slowly by the river, but I am sure our prayers will work,” he added.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at [email protected])