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Musings of a Madrasi on Assam – 5



Umananda Island – World’s smallest inhabited river island!

 I have added another feather to my cap of achievements. When nobody is ready to adorn my cap I have to do it myself, right? By visiting Umananda Island, world’s smallest inhabited river island, I added one more feather to my cap. Earlier, I had also visited Majuli Island, world’s biggest inhabited river island. Surprisingly both these islands – world’s biggest and world’s smallest inhabited river islands – are on River Brahmaputra and in the State of Assam.


Umananda Island is named after Uma, another name of Goddess Parvathi, the consort of Lord Shiva. The Hindu mythology says that this tiny island was created by Lord Shiva for His consort Uma’s pleasure. Lord Shiva also resided here in the form of Bhayananda to the joy (ananda) of His consort Uma. Hence the name ‘Umananda’.


          The tiny islet is also known as Bhasmachal (bhasma – to burn to ashes, achal – hill); Puranas say that Lord Shiva burnt Kamadeva (God of Love) to ashes with His third eye on this island when Kamadeva interrupted Shiva’s penance/meditation after the death of Shiva’s first wife Sati and when He was grieving and was unmindful of the world.

With a total area of just 0.11 square kilometers, Umananda Island is an inselberg (or monadnock, meaning an isolated rock, hill, knob, ridge, or small mountain that rises abruptly from a gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plain.) The hillock is made of rocks of Assam-Meghalaya gneissic complex.

Though tiny, the island has a third name also as ‘Peacock Island’. This name was given by a British officer as the island appeared to him like the spread feathers of a peacock.


Named Umananda, the island naturally has a main temple for Lord Shiva and His Consort Parvati. As you get down some 15 steps into the sanctum sanctorum, a small Shivlinga and a small idol of Parvati bless you from the dark interiors. Even before you get adjusted to the darkness and find the idols, you are shooed away by the ‘pandas’ (priests) to climb up and get out of the garbagraha, especially when there was a heavy rush of devotees due to the annual Ambubachi Mela at the Kamakya Temple in the Nilachal Hills, a little across on the southern bank of Brahmaputra.  Because of the frenzied devotees from all over the country, getting into the ferry itself was an act of adventure! Built in traditional Assamese style, all the temples on this island are plain without any sculptures except the idols in the sanctum.


          Being a must see tourist spot in Guwahati, the private ferry operators fleece the visitors to Umananda Island by charging 200 rupees for a to & fro trip. Luckily, the government had stepped in during the Ambubachi Mela and the charge was only 100 rupees both ways. It takes about 20 minutes to reach Umananda Island from Guwahati’s Umananda Ghat, depending on the flow and force of water, the weather conditions and upstream sail or downstream sail, etc. There are frequent ferry services to Umananda Island from Guwahati City.

The lesser temples on the island are that of Ganesha, Haragauri, Vaidyanath, Chalantika, and Chandrasekhar. There is a Kali idol as one gets out of the sanctum. As one climbs the steps numbering about 100 or so from the ferry ghat, a Hanuman gives darshan in gorgeous red colour as if to assuage the devotees after the climb.

In the massive earthquake of 1897, the temple was heavily damaged; a local merchant renovated it later, adding Vaishanavi scripts on the walls. So one finds “Radhe Shyam” inscribed tiles even near the sanctum.  Vaishnavism and Shaivism exist together here.

       A few shops sell puja items, religious objects and trinkets; fruit sellers had attractively arranged the cut fruits; It was so tempting but as it was in the open I desisted buying. Beware that the public convenience on the island is a nauseating sight; it still haunts me.  The island is inhabited by a few priests of the Umananda Temple, the only inhabitants. Travelling by ferry on the mighty Brahmaputra to visit this tiny island is by itself an unforgettable experience. As the ropeway cabin from South Guwahati to North Guwahati glides over this Island, one gets a panoramic view of the world’s smallest inhabited Island ‘Umananda’!  

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Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi