TODAY -

Serpents are Farmersí Companion

Kamal Baruah *



The bridge goes across the river Brahmaputra. Yes, itís at Saraighat, one could stop awhile and itís possible to have a birdís-eye view over the island. It is Majali (middle size), another remote and remarkable inhabited River Island. Stopovers at chapari (island) during winter were exquisitely beautiful childhood memories as we grew up.

Plucking seeds of Pea from uncleís farm were ecstatic reminiscence. Itís as unknown and yet well known for vegetables and this tiny chapari has always been a lifeline for localities. However the written name is Rani Chapari (high land form by river sand for temporary cultivation), that encompass an area of about 5,000 hectares extending 6 km. About 3,000 people from nearby villages are dependent on agricultural activities in a land mass in the midst of the river.

This fertile land does not have a permanent bank line but the impact of it on the socio economic life of those graziers is enormous. The farmers go across the river during a day. Drinking water is a scarcity. Also it is often a risk by rowing half a kilometre on unsafe country boat.

Some have makeshift agricultural dwelling in high land areas. Agriculturalists live with snakes, lizards, crocodiles, turtles and tortoises. There were instance of threats to snakes at farming. Myths and tales are retracted and retold over the origin of a festival.

Farmers started offering Puja to Maa Manasa (Serpent God) since 1959. The island gets submerged and faced mayhem in rainy season. Farmers desert the island during flood and erosion. Late 60s the Puja was finally moved out to the current location of Rani Chapari Shree Shree Manasa Mandir at Bhattapara-Garal (Dharapur-Palasbari Road).

Rani Chapari has also its own historical evidence. Rani was an independent territory during pre-British time stretching Jalukbari to Palashbari and from Rani Chapari to Khasi/Garo hills. These people originally from Yunnan province (China-Myanmar) might have crossed the Patkai Hills and reached the Brahmaputra valley.

The Mong Mao prince Chao-lung Sukaphaa settled his journey with about 9000 followers at Sibasagar. Another group might have settled in undivided Assam-Meghalaya. Since our forefathers names were like Chathura-Mathura (thura means brave, gallant in Burma), Naomon (mong mao prince Chao-lung Sukaphaa), Sansing (Aung San Ė Burmese leader). Ahom King Gadadhar Singha made a Garo queen of the state Rani. The queen helped him during political disputes among Ahom royal families. Patgaon was the capital then.

During British rule, Rani was divided into three mouzas viz Dakhin Rani, Chayani and Ramsarani for collection of tax. Dhopartal haat at near the bank of the river Dharapur was the marketing hub for its produces (mostly vegetables). The frequent flood have significantly caused the cultivate land unusable with loss of human and animal life to this chapari.

Thousands of families are living in poverty despite being surplus production. Produces are sold at throw away price. MSP and facilities of cold storage are a mirage for those sons of the soil. The island has no access to electricity and water. The advent of mechanised agriculture, agricultural machinery is an indispensable part and people desire power tools to tractor to carry out agricultural production with better connectivity from the mainland. However migrant labours from Dhuburi are put to work in the field.

Rani Chapari Manasa Puja completed 60 years and is celebrating Diamond Jubilee. Itís being observed on Naag Panchami (fifth day of bright half of lunar month of Shravan) day. Owing to flood season, people celebrate puja in April-May with great enthuses. Itís being worshiped for the prevention and cure of snakebite and also for fertility and prosperity.

Oja-pali, a musical folk theatre consisting of one Oja, one daina (right side) pali and three/four palies playing cymbal is believed to be one of the oldest performance art forms of Assam. The stories of Padma Purana, the serpent goddess of Manasa are recited during puja. It believed that Shankardeva took the inspiration from Ojapali to create his Ankiya Bhaona. Also beating on big drum by a short and flabby person rhythm with big cymbals is indeed a joy to watch.

The temple has attracted the wrath of people for patronizing animal sacrifice. But itís a debate to live up to that expectation as there is Section 428 (killing or maiming animal) in the IPC. But prevention of cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 does not prohibit animal sacrifice at religious places. The God-fearing people are deeply religious and moralistic and still have faith to supernatural beings of Snake God in this age. Thereíre narratives of shocking snake bite survival tales that happened in the past.

The myth is widely believed by the entire community. The recital of Chando Sadagar and Beola-Lakhinder (historical Mer Ghar at Chandika near Chaygoan) were traditional concerning the early history of social phenomenon. This year, Puja is being celebrated on 24-28 April. The Mandir has remained an important role in keeping the people united.

However, snakes are still feared by most and they are not always appreciated. But snakes form a key link in the food chain. They help maintain a healthy ecosystem and environment. Amphibians (frog) eat pest insects, benefiting successful agriculture around the world and minimizing the spread of diseases, including malaria. Frogs are also an important food source for birds and snake species. Thus it helps the ecological balance in nature.

Interestingly, snakes donít just act as predators. Lizards, dogs, cats, bird species (herons and raptors) feed on snakes. We need a healthy ecosystem and environment for our world to be functional. And by religious preaching, people unknowingly support this really amazing and simply awesome species for conserving incredible wildlife.

When river water recedes, young entrepreneurs got inspired to discover those stranded/uninhabited islands into a River land Tourism. Despite all a harmonious coexistence is doable between farmer and serpent at Rani-Chapari.


* Kamal Baruah wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a former Air Warrior and currently working for SBI Dispur. He can be reached at kamal(DOT)baruah(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on April 29, 2019.



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