Skip to content Skip to navigation

When Bamboo Flowers

“When bamboo flowers, famine, death and destruction follows”, says a tribal legend in Mizoram. Who better than the hardy Mizos would know this, considering that theirs is probably the only land on earth where history is closely intertwined with the mysterious cycle of bamboo flowering? Back in 1959, bamboo flowering in the state set off a chain of events in the rugged hilly state that ultimately led to one of the most powerful insurgencies against the Indian union spanning over two decades.

Once again the legend threatens to become a reality as thousands of rats are rampaging through rice and vegetable fields in Mizoram, adding fuel to the growing fears of famine in the region. International aid agencies have already warned of a serious crisis in this border state of the northeast.

Photo Top/right: Over 30% of Mizoram’s forest is covered by bamboo species called Melcanna baccifera, and they flower every 50 years. This flowering is followed by invasion of rats who feed on the seeds and then on to the crops and have caused famine in Mizoram in the past. This phenomenon is called MAUTAM in Mizo. Scientifically speaking the odd phenomena of bamboo flowering, is termed 'gregarious bamboo flowering' because the bamboo clumps flower all at the same time only once in the plants' lifetime. This phenomena spells disaster and causes ecological havoc. The reasons behind this strange occurrence are that bamboo plants die after flowering. And will be after some years before bamboo plants take seed again, leaving bare exposed soil – that spells disaster in mountainous states - and ultimately leading to food scarcity, as the animals depend on bamboo plants. Secondly the rats feed on the flowers and seeds of the dying bamboo tree which activates a rapid birth rate among the rodents, which leads to the huge rat population feeding on agricultural crops in the fields and granaries and causing famine.

“Countless numbers of rats have raided paddy fields and destroyed vegetables, leading to serious problems in almost all the eight districts of the state,” stated C Lalnithanga, a Mizoram government agriculture scientist and plant officer. “Hundreds of families are facing food shortages. Some are barely eking out one meal a day. Crops including rice, maize and vegetables have been wiped out as flowering of bamboo in the region caused an explosion of rodent population,” said a report by Action Aid, an international anti-poverty agency.

Mast bamboo flowering in West Khasi Hills has caused fear to the people of Riangdo area in West Khasi Hills, Meghalaya on 16-04-08
Mast bamboo flowering in West Khasi Hills has caused fear to the people of Riangdo area in West Khasi Hills, Meghalaya on 16-04-08. Pix by UB Photos.
The rat rampage has not confined itself to bamboo growing areas alone but defying predictions of agricultural scientists who said that areas where bamboo flowering did not take place would be spared as Tawaizo a village in Mizoram bore the brunt of destruction by armies of rats. This small village atop the mountainside of Tawi, the tenth highest mountain in Mizoram at 1,837 meters, experienced a total crop failure due to Mautam or famine caused by gregarious bamboo flowering last year.

A similar occurrence in Mizoram in the late 1950s led to disillusionment and anger when the authorities failed to respond with quick famine relief. This later resulted in the Mizo National Famine Front, an organization created to help people get relief, changing into the Mizo National Front, an ethnic political party which involved the Mizos in a 20-year war of attrition against India which ended only in 1987 with a peace accord. The MNF is now a regional political party that heads the government in Mizoram led by former guerrilla leader Zoramthanga.

Bamboo flowering related famine was recorded in Mizoram in the year 1862 and again in 1911 after the state witnessed similar bamboo flowerings. Incidentally the rare phenomena of bamboo flowering are a cyclical one and occur every 48 years throwing life off gear.

Bamboo grows wildly in 6,000 sq km of Mizoram’s total geographical area of 21,ooo sq km with the state, bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar, harvesting 40 percent of India’s 80 million-ton annual bamboo crops. A thriving economy revolves around bamboo. The pulp and paper industry, construction, cottage industry and handloom, food, fuel, fodder and medicine annually consume about 22 million tons of bamboo.

Though the state government has asked the Center to rush adequate stocks of food grain to curb the crisis the famine may be prevented as most villages are now linked to the main government centers, and also because the "Mizo experience" is always there to remind them of the political outcome of bamboo flowering.

Author info

Rituparna Goswami Pande's picture

Journalist, writer


Dr A.N.Sahay's picture

Bamboo flowering in Mizoram is very informative.
jay's picture

Many will say you are being superstitious, but it doesn’t look like. Well documented and researched article, balanced with legends and scientific data, it makes an interesting article. Although, it has grey shades but it definitely shows that even after 50 years of independence, we have lot to cover in terms social welfare. Even if after 50 years of independence, writer like you have to go back and compare data to that of 50 years and come to the same conclusion, then it is definitely telling us that except of equipping people with mobiles and automobiles, we have not done enough to make the lives of ordinary people better. I really some leader out there reads your article and comes to the same conclusion and most of your reader would do. We can just pray that god keeps the casualty to minimum and cruise the people through this.
rehana's picture

Brilliant article. Shows the amount of research done. India needs more budding writers like you.
okbrin luqmana's picture

This is a big miracle. Bamboo's flowers is beautiful and just can look for a 250 years.
Dr. Arun Jyoti Nath's picture

Article showing the effect of mast flowering is very informative. Ways and devices must be properly designed to manage this flowering. However, as a management protocol this species should not be replaced with other exotic species to the state. Let it to regenerate and grow again successfully.Thanking Goswami Pandey to writing such informative article.
dhananjoy chingangbam's picture

it is a pleasure to get the information.
CRISANTO's picture

what?? i cant belive this
Jagannath Baisya's picture

it was something like unknown events. but it sents a sleeping message to everyone .
prodip kumar sahoo's picture

It is an informative about the topic bamboo flowering in Mizoram. Prodip Kumar Sahoo Research scholar Gauhati University Dept of Zoology

reasons of bamboo flowering and its impact(traditionally) was asked in UPSC CS exam......lots of thanks


Add new comment

Random Stories

Sewabrat Baruah passes away

24 Jan 2021 - 4:21pm | AT News
Celebrated Assamese dramatist Sewabrat Baruah is no more. One of the finest dramatists of the contemporary era, Baruah passed away last night after a prolonged illness. The news has saddened all...

KMSS stages dharna in Delhi

18 Jan 2014 - 1:36pm | Ranadeep Gogoi
Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti staged dharna in New Delhion Saturday alleging failure of the AAP government in the capital state. Led by president Akhil Gogoi, KMSS activists thronged the...

50 taken ill on Prasad consumption

4 Aug 2013 - 9:31pm | AT News
Over 50 people have fallen ill after having prasad at a religious function organized in Kamrup district on Sunday. The local residents in Rangiya had gathered at a house in Nabapur village in Rani...

Total shutdown in Udalguri during 24 hour AKRSU bandh

21 Jul 2018 - 8:16am | Shajid Khan
  UDALGURI:  The 24 hour state wide bandh jointly called by All Koch Rajbongshi Students' Union(AKRSU), All Assam  Koch Rajbongshi Mahila Sanmilani (AKRMS) and Chilarai Sena in demand...

Other Contents by Author

This women’s day I salute those unsung ‘heroes’ who have withstood the onslaught of fickle fate. No they are not faces in the crowd rather they are the crowd whose faces we don’t remember. They are those who are living in the periphery of life, battling everyday issues of home and hearth.I bow my head in reverence to the grit of Mausam’s mother who put aside her grief after losing her only son to Ewing’s Sarcoma in order to stand as a pillar of strength to her broken husband who unable to bear the tempest of misfortune had almost lost touch with reality. I like many others was a helpless bystander of the tale of woe that had fallen like a bolt from the blue on this poor family.  But...
If I had wings and were a birdWould travel the world and orbit the EarthOr had I been a butterfly Eclectic colors would be mineI would hover over trees, flutter over blooms, On a spiritual high, I would go into a swoonShould I be a fish and swim the seaPass through oceans or haunt a reefWith beautiful corals for companyThe heart would leap at Nature’s bountyHad I been a fir tree insteadMy leaves would flutter in snow headsThe flirty wind would kiss my soulThe icy breeze to lift me up, life would be on a rollWhat if I were the season – SpringOrchid blooms, newness to ring inNo, no let me be the sky, the endless blueFar from earth, to keep a watch on youBut then my mind looks to the...
I, KazirangaShedding tears of bloodMy children, the four leggedIn men no longer trust.God’s blessed beings are theyRoaming the wildsIn search of prey and hayOften trapped by wily menCaught unawaresBy a poaching handLeft to dieWith bleeding woundsWith their hornsCut by forest goonsNo where to runNo where to hideTheir haven encroached by thugsTheir skies taken over by two legged bugsFeigned protectionI don’t seekI, KazirangaWill continue to bleedIf there is no messiahLet my children not desireAny solace from cruel fateBut march towards extinction and Heaven’s gate.
The fact that we need to celebrate Women’s Day portends that all is not well in a women’s world. Or else why would we need to single out a day for millions of women who have equal rights and status in the world they inhabit. We don’t have a men’s day which is evidence enough that all is hunky dory with their race.The UN theme for International Women's Day 2013 is "A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women," while International Women's Day 2013 has declared the year's theme as The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum. But then is it really gaining momentum?As we celebrate Women’s Day today a woman is probably being raped in our rape capital i.e. Delhi or any other...
Lately every morning we have been waking up to screaming headlines of animal killings in the newspapers. Rhinos being poached with their horns brutally severed and left to die,elephants electrocuted or hunted down, their bodies mutilated and left to bleed to death. Gory pictures of animal atrocities splashed in every newspaper, every channel. It really makes one ponder as to how low humans can stoop to gratify their covetous desire for money. Twisted minds are targetting the animal kingdom, mute creatures, innocent beings who do not care nor bother to know how our world has become a slave to money. The world Heritage site Kaziranga National park has seen 20 rhino killings this year and a...
All Hindus become epitomes of excitement to the run up to the festival of the auspicious Durga puja. Pandals coming up everywhere, idols being given finishing touches, revellers thronging the markets, discount offers, designer wear on sale and so on. Everyone is under the grip of puja fever and the associated excitement.But for once if we shift our focus away from ourselves and our frivolous acts and ponder over the plights of those innocent animals that would be sacrificed during the puja offerings, I am sure the smiles in our faces would be wiped off. At least the smiles would vanish from those faces who have a little compassion for the four legged. Imagine the little pigeons, a symbol...
From bedraggled beggars on the streets to the suit clad brokers on Wall Street – the ubiquitous cell phone is everywhere, in every pocket irrespective of the rich / poor status of its owners. It is no longer an item of luxury albeit it’s a must have today, a necessary evil. For technology comes with a price and the technology behind mobile phones is sure to make mankind pay a heavy price – the price of health and safety. The recent furore created in the media worldwide over the possible hazareds of mobile phone radiation has made us sit up and take note of the pros and cons of using the innocent looking mobile handset which had till date so surely and surreptitiously...
Man is an animal first and a social animal later. However, our ‘social’ status has failed to erase our animal instincts, which lies dormant in our basic dispositions. The urge to spread violence, the need to kill, and the thirst to quench our carnal desires are proof that there is still some animal in us. These urges raise their ugly heads in the form of homicides, rape and molestation incidents, and mob violence etc putting mankind to shame. The dangerous of all is our affinity towards the mob mentality that threatens to ensnare us at the slightest pretext and at the slightest of provocation. The term “mob mentality” is used to refer to unique behavioral...
The mellifluous tinkle of the Sarod permeated the atmosphere under a canopy of twinkling stars and a soft breeze that emanated from the somber Nilachal hill. Ustaad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Amaan and Ayaan performed at the open amphitheatre in the Kamakhya temple premises striking a divine chord in all our hearts. The setting couldn’t have been more striking. The silhouette of the sanctuary at the backdrop and the stupendous performances of maestros were the perfect mode of the two day Kameshwari Music and Dance festival 2010. Dance and music have been an inherent part of temples in India since times immemorial. In order to appease the gods these art forms have always been...
“The Assam State Zoo encompassing over 130 hectares of land boasts of an astonishing collection of some rare and extinct species of wild animals settled comfortably in their natural habitat.” This is how a website describes the zoo in our city. However, the ‘stay’ of the animals there is far from ‘comfortable’. The captive animals in small enclosures with hardly room for free movement is a far cry from comfortable. The Assam state Zoo boasts of white tigers, one horned rhinos, Swamp tapirs and leopards to name a few. The zoo is also prosperous in the avian branch and plays host to rare species of birds. Sadly, the animals are caged for better viewing of...