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Travelogue: The Glory of Assam (Gyanodaya V)

21st DECEMBER 2014

Day 1: Kamakhya Darshan

Kamakhya Temple is one of the major Sakti Peeths in the country and among the most important symbol of power. We were personally intrigued by the survival of an ancient tradition that defines Hinduism- i.e. Animal Sacrifice. 

Sacrifice is seen as a selfless act of ‘grand’ for well wishes earned by the devotees. In ancient traditions it was seen as a divine contract binding the devotee and the goddess for the fulfilment of wishes. 

Guwahati has always been a hot shot destination for the believers of the ‘Shakti Cult’. Every year believers of the tantric clan visit Maa Kamakhya, seeking blessings from the goddess of fertility. The temple today in fact stands as a landmark location where faith, fear and belief juxtapose each other in the name of religion. The uniqueness of the temple can surely be established by the fact that it’s located on the spot where the female reproductive organ of ‘Sati’ fell after her body was dismembered by the ‘Sudharchan Chakra’ of mighty Bisnu. 

Call it stereotype, belief or faith, one colour that defines the temple entirely is ‘red’. Be it vermillion coloured forehead or red watered drains running out of the temple. It’s entirely red everywhere. One can surely feel devotion in the air once you step into the temple. 

However, once we spent ample time in the temple compound, certain other things also started catching out attention. Apart from an established religious institution, Kamakhya is also happens to be an established home ground for religion based business.  

Belief has been one emotion that can never be bargained for something materialistic. There is no parameter as to weight one’s belief and evaluate ones dedication. As we spent more time understanding how the administrative functionaries function of this ancient temple, we realized a cap as to how they judge one’s devotion. It was a little surprising as to how one’s capability to spend determines how close you can be to the god. The system of issuing tickets of varied Indian currencies determines how close you can be to god. And it is your pocket value that determines your capability of devotion towards god. 

You can see mile long line of devotees waiting for a darshan of Maa, while few fortunate enough of trade the effort to a quarter by paying some amount more than what others did. The rate, fixed; and what this implies is the fact that there exists certain set of norms for determining how one qualifies for the duration and proximity of their visit. 

Our further investigation into these established norms failed due to the duration of our visit and other administrative hassles. Furthermore, even inside the temple there is persistent appeal by the ‘purohits’ for donation in the name of well being of ourselves or our near ones. The members of ours group collectively agreed to the upon the notion that one cannot demand in the name of religion. It is up to one’s faith as what they want to donate or offer.    

22st DECEMBER 2014

Day 2: A visit to Umanada Temple

On the second day of the Grand Gyanodaya expedition, we visited The Umananda Temple, located at the Peacock Island, which interestingly also happens to be world’s smallest inhabited river island. Noteworthy to mention here is that, Majuli, which is the largest river island of the world, is also located in Assam. 

The only way to commute to this river island is the ferry and small boat service which is available on both banks of the Brahmaputra (Guwahati and North Guwahati). The temple is located on top of hillock on the peacock island. The island also home to an indigenous species of monkeys, geographically endemic to the island, the Golden Langur. 

After half an hour long ferry ride, devotees have to climb a long staircase to reach the temple. Though the temple wasn’t any grand ‘The City of Temples’ can boast of but, the pack of devotees who queued outside the main gate of the shrine spoke volumes about its mythic sanctimony.

A local ferry in Guwahati

As justified with the word ‘Nanda’, the temple is dedicated to Shiva. Built during the Ahom Dynasty, the temple was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1890, and was rebuilt by a local trader. The temple has a self emerged ‘Shivling’ with a sculpture of lord Shiva. Mythology has it that this was the place where lord Shiva consummated hi relationship with Parvati. Hence, the name, ‘Uma-ananda; Umanada. 
Umananda Temple Entrance

The temple has a large number of devotees evidenced by a long queue waiting to offer prayers. They travel from places as far as Gorakhpur, Indore, Kolkata, Muzafrabad, Dehradun, Nepal and Delhi. 

Despite the breath enthralling beauty, there was certain things which we could not stop noticing. The ghat could have been better maintained. Moreover, there are severally limited avenues for collecting additional revenue, for the Department of Inland Water Resources, for the commercialization on the banks of river, for example food stalls, restaurants, and special shows and cruises for entertainment. Lastly, the issue of neglect of basic safety protocols, with only two ill-equipped life guards, and one life-jacket on the entire ferry shows disdain on the part of the Department of Inland Water Resources. We recommend installation of GPS; better boarding and de-boarding facilities, appropriate number of life guards and jackets. 

As the journey came to an end, we looked at the glistening waters for a last time, secretly hoping to witness a rare fish species, and as we soaked in the radiance of the warm sun, and enjoyed with a little merry making, all of us realized the magnanimity of the river and surely stepped onto the land in awe of the biggest natural resource of Guwahati. 

23st DECEMBER 2014

Day 3: A Visit to Suwalkuchi and Barpeta

The third day of our educational visit started with a visit to famous Silk Village of Assam Suwalkuchi. This unusual village is located 25 kms away from Guwahati, near the bank of mighty river Brahmaputra. Must we admire the beauty of mighty river Brahmaputra and the engineering marvel the Saraighat Bridge that we crossed on our way. What added further to the charm was the historic significance of Saraighat where Bir Lachit Phukan defeated the daring Mughal Army. 

About Suwalkuchi, the village is surprisingly developed. Contrary to popular belief of unpaved roads and mud huts, Suwalkuchi is significantly developed. Roads are well constructed and all sorts of vehicle ply on it. The very fact that distinguishes this village from others can be well understood from the mini swimming complex they have, though it’s dysfunctional. 

With a local Silk Industry Worker
The purpose of our visit to Suwalkuchi was actually about the Silk Industry it is home to. Silk clothing has a very important significance in Assamese culture, as traditional Assamese clothing, Mekhela Sador is primarily made of Silk. The uniqueness of this industry is also set aside by the interesting attitude of its residents, who believe that silk production is not an industry but rather a hobby. The ‘Muga Silk Worm’ is endemic to Assam and hence it sets the uniqueness of this industry. 

The friendly spirit of the people of Assam was clearly reflected in the warm and cordial reception from the shopkeepers, dwellers, children and artisans alike. A chance encounter with a provision store operator led us to witness the wonderful process of production and weaving of silk clothes, which, might seem like any other menial job, but requires expertise and craftiness of the highest level. A simple and antiquated contraption, the Taat Sal, the machine used to weave silk, is operated with a symphonic mastery. The result of this diligently performed task is a gorgeous piece of artistry, which can be literally worn on the sleeve. After bagging some traditional souvenirs, in the form of Gamosa, a piece of cloth adorned around the neck by Assamese males, we rejoiced in the glory of an industry that has survived generations and were intrigued by the potential that it holds.

Next we went to the sleepy town of Barpeta, located 80km east of Guwahati. This town is famous for the Satra, which is a cultural epicentre of Assamese community, established by, St. Mahapurush Sri Sri Madhav Dev. Built in 1504 A.D., the Barpeta Satra beholds a unique tradition of celebrating Holi. The only idol inside the entire compound is of Lord Shri Krishna which is taken out only the same period of festivity. The other fascinating feature of the Satra is the lamp which has been burning for the past hundreds of years. However, what was surprising for was the radical attitude, which is still prevalent inside the satra, still religiously followed. Their intolerance of permitting anyone, other than from Hindu religion, inside the premises, and also prohibiting women from entering the main shrine, is difficult to digest. However, the peaceful and artistic atmosphere inside the compound did steal our breath, so did the hospitality of the people. 

A visit to Barpeta also served the purpose of studying a indigenous Assamese industry, the firecracker industry, which over a century old. 

At Barpeta Firecracker Industry

24st DECEMBER 2014

Day 4: Visit to Tezpur and local sight-seeing

The fourth day of this excursion led us to Upper Assam as we proceeded towards the beautiful city of Tezpur.  Travelling across the countryside of the state, we crossed the mighty Brahmaputra again, as we stumbled upon the Koliabhomora Bridge, at the entrance of this charming town. This 3 kilometres long bridge is the longest bridge over the river. The Tezpur itinerary included revisiting the history of King Baan and Lord Krishna’s over Aniruddha’s abduction. We visited the famous Agnigarh, which is now a local tourist hot-spot. 

The Agnigarh hills provide a panoramic view of the entire city along with the river. The setting sun and the clear sky, gave us a glimpse into the harmonical balance of the elements of nature, which is reflected in the entire state. Viewing the brilliant red hue of the sky, mirrored in the water, was surely an unforgettable experience for everyone. The star filled pollution less and clear sky made the ambience even more tranquil. 

Sunset at Agnigarh

 The day culminated with a visit to the Chitralekha Park, which is home to old sculptures presented in a uniquely enchanting arrangement. The park houses modern amenities and entertainment facilities, like Bumper cars and swimming pools. The city promises a lot more than what meets the eye, but due to our tight schedules and paucity of time, a lot was left unexplored. 

25th DECEMBER 2014

Day 5: Jungle safari: Kaziranga

The highlight of the entire trip was definitely the trip to Kaziranga. What made the occasion even more special was the fact that it was Christmas day. 

The jungle safari is was a unique experience, something that words cannot describe. From concrete jungle of Gurgaon to the surreal natural beauty of Kaziranga, the change was dramatic. One can only experience the beauty of nature, but cannot narrate it. Hence we decided to not write much about this experience and rather just give you a glimpse of the entire safari via pictures.  


This travelogue has been written by students of Delhi College of Arts and Commerce for Gyanodaya V- The Educational Trip of Delhi University. Photo Credits: Sachin Kumar 


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