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Day 97: Dibrugah to Majuli Island

Michael Palin - HimalayaMajuli Island covers nearly 250 square miles (650 sq km), which, Maan tells me, is half as big as it was 50 years ago. It's been continuously settled for 3000 years, but since the arrival of a saint, Shankara Deva, at the start of the 16th century it has become best known for its religious institutions, a form of monastery called satras. These differ from mainstream Hinduism by preaching devotion to only one god, Vishnu, and rejecting the use of icons or images.

The Uttar (meaning 'North') Kamalabari satra is in a peaceful rural setting among rice and mustard fields criss-crossed with well-trodden mud paths and dotted with small bonfires. We are required to remove our shoes and socks when we reach its arched gatehouse entrance, with the date of foundation, 1673, inscribed on it. Purity is a very important part of the tradition of the satras. The bhakat, the community of monks, has taken a vow of purity and if they prepare food or touch someone who is impure they must immediately wash.

In the centre of the monastery complex is an east-facing prayer hall called the Kirtanghar, some 200 feet long and surrounded by vegetable gardens and tropical fruit trees. The living accommodation is set round the perimeter of this intimate site in four residential terraces called haatis, which are themselves broken down into two storeys of rooms called bohas, lending the satra the air of an Oxbridge college marooned in the jungle.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 97: Dibrugah to Majuli Island
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Majuli Island
  • Book page no: 228

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