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Himalaya

Day 97: Dibrugah to Majuli Island

Majuli Island, Nagaland and Assam 
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Never saw anything like this on my bike rides in Sheffield. Mishing fisherwomen put their catch down their cleavage.
Michael Palin - HimalayaDulal, who has spent 35 of his 41 years in the monastery, tells me that some of the young men are sent here by their parents because they can't afford to keep them at home. Families who have experienced pain or disease might send one of their children to the satra in the hope of improving the family fortunes. A ten-year-old was being offered for sale in a market in Uttar Pradesh when one of the monks heard about it and brought him here.

By now, some of the young monks are pulling on skirts and blouses and another is, with great concentration, strapping on a pair of small artificial breasts, which he then covers with a bra. Krishna is having trouble coping with two wigs and a crown.

The dance is accompanied by a flute, harmonium, finger cymbals and three drummers, each with a kohl, a cylindrical drum only found in Assam, about 20 inches long, made from jackfruit tree stems with leather at either end and carried round the neck and across the chest.

The dance, which involves Krishna, 14 milkmaids and a demon who Krishna fights off with a tree, takes place in the Kirtanghar. It's exquisitely executed, requiring the most concentrated co-ordination, as every tiniest body movement, of arms and legs and hands and feet, is precisely choreographed, and every facial expression has to be exactly in accordance with tradition. Fingers must always be turned up at the ends to resemble the lotus, and when they make their delicate curlicue movements the eyes of the dancer must always follow them, creating the effect of the whole body as a stream in motion. A white butterfly flutters across the room as if to set them an example.

The performance attracts a small audience, and I notice that women spectators who wish to watch these men dressed as women are not allowed inside the prayer hall, but have to watch from behind bars outside.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 97: Dibrugah to Majuli Island
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Majuli Island
  • Book page no: 230

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