Marginalisation, Revolt and Adaptation: On Changing the Mayamara Tradition


  • Baburam Saikia University of Tartu


Assam is a land of complex history and folklore situated in North East India where religious beliefs, both institutional and vernacular, are part and parcel of lived folk cultures. Amid the domination and growth of Goddess worshiping cults (sakta) in Assam, the sattra unit of religious and socio-cultural institutions came into being as a result of the neo-Vaishnava movement led by Sankaradeva (1449–1568) and his chief disciple Madhavadeva (1489–1596). Kalasamhati is one among the four basic religious sects of the sattras, spread mainly among the subdued communities in Assam. Mayamara could be considered a subsect under Kalasamhati. Aniruddhadeva (1553–1626) preached the Mayamara doctrine among his devotees on the north bank of the Brahmaputra river. Later his inclusive religious behaviour and magical skill influenced many locals to convert to the Mayamara faith. Ritualistic features are a very significant part of Mayamara devotee’s lives. Among the locals there are some narrative variations and disputes about stories and terminologies of the tradition. Adaptations of religious elements in their faith from Indigenous sources have led to the question of their recognition in the mainstream neo-Vaishnava order. In the context of Mayamara tradition, the connection between folklore and history is very much intertwined. Therefore, this paper focuses on marginalisation, revolt in the community and narrative interpretation on the basis of folkloristic and historical groundings. The discussion will reflect upon the beliefs, ritualistic aspects, and myths of the tradition. Fieldwork materials will be employed to discuss the tension between local practices and mainstream neo-Vaishnava influence.


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