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Majuli Monasteries wake up to conversion threat

Majuli Monasteries wake up to conversion threat

Author: Pullock Dutta
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: June 21, 2000

A spate of religious conversions on the world's largest river island of Majuli has set the stage for a major confrontation between the upholders of Vaishnavaite culture and the Church.

Home to almost all the major satras (Vaishnavaite monasteries) in Assam, Majuli has a large population of Mising tribals who are being increasingly drawn towards Christian ideals. In several villages on the island, Christianity is well on its way to becoming the major faith.

"The failure of the satras to keep the Misings in their fold has given Christian missionaries the opportunity to convert them," the satradhikar (head abbot) of Na-Kamalabari Satra told a newspaper recently.

The issue was raised again yesterday at a function commemorating 130 years of the Asam Bilasini, a newspaper published by the Auniati Satra.

Addressing the function in Majuli, former Asam Sahitya Sabha president Nagen Saikia said the newspaper was the brainchild of satradhikar Duttadev Goswami, who imported a printing machine from Calcutta and established the Dharmaprakash Press in Majuli on June 19, 1871.

"The satradhikar's primary aim was to counter the threat from Christian missionaries, who had just launched the first Assamese newspaper Arunodoi," Saikia said.

The Asam Bilasini is no longer in publication, but a new computerised printing press was inaugurated by current Asam Sahitya Sabha chief Chandra Prasad Saikia at the Auniati Satra yesterday. Religious texts will be published in the new printing unit. Also in the pipeline is a book on Majuli's history.

Majuli came into prominence in the 16th century, when Srimanta Sankardev and his disciples set up satras on the island to propagate Vaishnavaite philosophy. There are 22 satras in Majuli at present.

With Christianity making inroads into the island, all major satras have been shaken out of their complacency.

A campaign is underway to bring back Misings who have turned to Christianity back into the Vaishnavaite fold.

A bhaona (traditional play) was staged in the Mising-dominated Jengrai area recently to restore the tribals' faith in Vaishnavaite culture.

CRPF men killed

Two Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed in an encounter with militants at Ghugulani village under Naharkatia police station in Upper Assam's Dibrugarh district last night.

A joint police and CRPF team was on its way to the village for a combing operation when the militants opened fire. Havildar Bhagebisukh and constable Narayan Pradhan were killed on the spot, sources said.

In another incident, security forces apprehended a United National Liberation Front militant in Motinagar tea estate under Geleky police station on the Assam-Nagaland border in Sivsagar district today.

An M-21 rifle and 12 rounds of ammunition were recovered from the militant, identified as Ratan Sharma. Ratan told interrogators that he and four other militants were on their way to Manipur from Hoyak on the Indo-Myanmar border.

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