The underlying reason behind appeasing the river: the government’s failure to protect the island despite spending millions on anti-erosion measures. Sited 320km east of Guwahati, Majuli is in the middle of the Brahmaputra off central Assam’s Jorhat town.
The island measured 1,250 sq km less than 100 years ago but erosion caused by annual floods has now reduced it to 421.65 sq km. Many villages, schools and public facilities on the island have been washed away during the past 30 years. Less than half the 65 sattras or Vaishnavite monasteries – they are at the core of Assamese culture – have also vanished. “With this puja, we hope Baba Brahmaputra will spare us his annual fury. We will continue to offer period pujas until the river god hears us,” local community leader Prasanta Bora said. Bora added the villagers got the idea from a couple of villages the river had apparently spared after being offered similar pujas. The deluge earlier this year affected almost all the other 300 villages on Majuli besides claiming the lives of five minors. More than the vagaries of nature, locals blame Majuli’s misery on mismanagement and misappropriation of funds by water resources (formerly flood control) department and the Central sector Brahmaputra Board that was set up in 1980.
Assam receives at least Rs. 100 crore annually to check flood and erosion damage. “Government agencies are a total failure and whatever measures they take are hardly visible. Only god can help us, hence this puja to the river Baba,” village elder Jayanta Pegu said.