The construction of popular narratives about a place is sometimes driven by an overuse of popular tropes, which delegitimises and silences the local community’s own interpretations of their history and culture. A Google search on ‘Mayong’ opens results such as ‘India’s Black Magic Capital’, ‘Land of Black Magic’, and so on, where the words ‘black’, ‘occult’, and ‘spooky’ take a connotative precedence. The image search provides a confusing plethora of images ranging from portraits of Naga sadhus smeared in bibhuti (holy ash), neo-Vaishnavite Assamese monks, Amazonian tribes and shamans passed off as practitioners of ‘black magic’ in Mayong. There is a particularly odd image of a collection of globes, a skeleton, and an assortment of objects, ostensibly hosted by the ‘Mayong Central Museum and Emporium of Black Magic and Witchcraft’. The image is definitely not from any museum in Mayong and the words “Black Magic” and “Witchcraft” were never a part of any museum title in Assam. The frontier Kamrupa-Pragjyotishpur has always been associated with magic and myths around magical practices since ancient times, because of the Śākta cult of the Kamakhya temple, and alleged instances of blood sacrifices and associated Tantric practices. This exoticization of Mayong in popular imagery, therefore, has deep historical roots.
Author: Kaustuv Saikia
Kaustuv is District Museum Officer at Directorate of Museums, Assam State Museum and was former Assistant Curator (Central Asian Antiquities) at National Museum, New Delhi