India, a proud nation for its culturally rich and diverse society, doesn’t have just one heaven well known as Kashmir, but also has one more little paradise, on the rocky terrain of Himalayan ranges that is Assam. Situated in the extreme north of India and South of eastern Himalayas Assam is one of the seven sister States. A chain of hills adorns her with greenery and two rivers, the Brahmaputra and the Barak flow through her adding tremendous charm and glory to her pristine beauty. Eagerly want to see one-horned rhino? Then again Assam ready to satisfy you with your needs. Kaziranga National Park situated in Assam attracts lots of tourists every year. This immensely satisfying natural beauty is also full of cultural diversities and arts pertaining to different parts of the state. The culture of Assam has developed by the gradual assimilation of culture and tradition of various ethnocultural groups through ages. Hence it’s often referred to as hybrid culture.
One has to dive deep into the history of Assam to acknowledge the process of assimilation and amalgamation owing to which Assamese have such a multifarious cultural trait and has set the perfect example of “oneness among difference”. According to many types of research, the earlier migrants were people of Austric group (3500 B.C. to 2500 B.C.). It is deduced that many other Asiatic groups also came to Assam during the same period of time, this mixed flow of population was named as Austro-Asian migration. They came through sea route from the South-West region. Then came Mongols, they crossed Himalayan ranges and came to Assam from China in around (3000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.). They are considered as one of the largest flow of migrants in Assam’s history. Next, Assam witnessed coming of Aryans who arrived nearly at the same time as Mongols but spent comparatively larger span than Mongols. Aryans played a vital role in forming the cultural and societal base of Assam. Adequate lifestyle, vernacular development, bona fide agricultural methods etc were the gifts of Aryans. Many historians are of the opinion that Vedic culture came to Assam with Aryans and mingled with Tantric culture of some other group of migrants (Reportedly Bodo-Kachari). In 1228 A.D Tai-Shans entered in Brahmaputra valley after crossing the Patkai ranges and remained there for the next 600 years. They entered under the leadership of Siu-Ka-Pha and established the Ahom Kingdom. They were highly enriched with their own culture, custom, tradition, religion and political aspects. Kushal Dutta in his article mentioned the Ahom’s reign as the “Golden Era of Social and Cultural life of Assam.” Muslim invaders also came from Turkey and Afghanistan around the same period of time.
In the age of Ramayana and Mahabharat, this heavenly glory was known as Kamrupa with Pragjyotishpur as it’s capital. The availability of fertile lands, vast flora and fauna hills, evergreen forests in Assam became the apple of eyes of all the passerby’s. Presence of resources like “Gold” and “lac” in abundance along with other natural resources made Assam a commercial hub. During the 15th century, the Vaishnav Movement under the leadership of Srimants Sankardev took place. The upshot of which is the social institutions named Namghar and Sattra – the Vaishnav heritage, imposing a great impact on the lifestyle of Assamese. The guest list of Assam is not yet filled, next came Britishers who brought tea plantation to the whole of North-East. They brought people of near around states as labours to facilitate the production of tea and settled them here.
Though in the last two centuries the culture of less ethnocultural groups has been alienated, the people are indeed much tolerant of all religions and culture. The loopings of diverse traditions have added to the culture’s rich and exotic tapestry. There can never be a full stop in the ongoing cultural progress of Assam.
The Assamese love to wear hand-loomed dresses, simple and elegant. Mostly the dresses are made of Silk fibre or Muga. Silk sarees, made of fine woven are highly in demand in the rest of India. They are highly enriched with fine motifs. ‘Eri’ and ‘Pat’ silks are also used to weave the clothes. Let’s please our eyes while discussing the dresses of tribes separately. Dimasa tribe – The men and women of this tribe wear skirt type dress and Rigu, is worn by girls and women. Bodo tribe – Menswear Dhoti and Chaddar and women adorn themselves with Riha and use Mekhla costume. Thai Phake tribe – Chairchin, a gorgeous striped girdle usually light in colour is worn by women of this tribe. Men wear loincloth which has red and black stripes and a shirt called Sho. Rabhas tribe – The traditional costume of this tribe is Koum Kontong. It is wrapped around the waist like a shirt. Women’s blouses are bright and beautiful and richly designed. Mishing tribe – Sampa is worn by women’s, and married women add an additional piece of cloth on their hips. Sampa is prominent in the whole of Assam. Men wear dhoti and white shirt.
Gamusa is a cloth of supreme importance to the Assamese. It is a rectangular white cloth with a red border on three sides and woven patterns on the fourth side. Assamese use this cloth during auspicious events and festivals. It is also used to facilitate people with honour. While celebrating Bihu, men’s wrap Gamusa around their head and dance. It is consistently used to cover the altar in any religious practices.
Paghuri is an occasional dress adorned by men while performing Sattriya dance in Neo-Vaishnav culture. Vaishnav bhakts embrace this dress highly.
Art and Craft :
Assam is widely flourished in art and craft. The tribal art form of Assam is world-famous. Brass and bell metal products are distinctively made for example water pots, dishes, spoons and other daily use utilities. Bamboo and Cane are extensively used in not just making furniture and houses but musical instruments, accessories and also weaving. Traditional bamboo Jaapi looks astonishingly amazing. An astounding assemblage of pottery and terracotta work will make you bow down in front of Assamese craftsmanship. Terracotta toys, vases and figures of mythological characters etc are made variedly. Weaving handloom is mushroomed throughout Assam and is the most ancient practice. Various groups produce cotton garments, exclusive embroidery etc. Paintings which has evolved from different ethnocultural groups showcase the artistic carvings of the people. The paintings are based substantially on the folklores, myths and religious practices that were once the intrinsic part of Assam.
Linguistic Diversity and Literature :
Eastern Indo-Aryan language called Assamese (also Oxomia) is spoken mainly on this little paradise, where it is also an official language. Due to a few regional variations, the dialects differ. Earlier only two eastern and western dialects were identified, of which the former is heterogeneous and latter is heterogeneous. The recent linguistic studies have identified to more dialects one is Kamrupi and the other is Goalpariya. The first written manuscript in verse form is Caryapadas, it aimed at endorsing the promotion of Buddhism. We also have some Pre-Sankara era literature i.e, Hem Saraswati indited Prahlad Charit, Madhav Kandali translated Balmiki Ramayan, Peetambar and Mankar translated Durgabar’s Geeti Ramayana of 15th century and Panchali Sahitya. It is also said that during the Ahom era, the literature flourished. The modern era crannies were Hemchandra Barua, Lakshminath Bezbaroa, Krishnakanta Handique to name a few. The highest literary award in India ‘Bharatiya Jnanpith’ was awarded to two prominent Assamese writers post-independence. One to Dr Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya for his novel ‘Mrityunjay’ and the other one to Dr Indira Goswami for her overall literary works. Lately, the Bodo literature has achieved constitutional status. The Assamese literature of major languages is still on progressive roads.
Folk Music and Dance :
Assam cultural diversity is also noticeable in its folk music. The various genres of Assamese music have been developed on the basis of history and ancient tradition. The basic feature of Assamese music is it’s descending scale. The most favoured forms of folk music to name a few are- Bihu Geet, representing the carnival of life the songs are full of love sung during the world-famous festival of Bihu. Goalporiya Lokageet, lyrical form of music which is not related to any religion but based completely on love. Kamrupiya Lokageet, popular in lower Assam was developed during the reign of Kamarupa era. The songs relate to common human emotions and feelings. Aainam, relates to death and illness and sung only by women. Bianaam, popular folk music prevalent throughout Assam is basically a fun making a matrimonial song. The vibrant groups, tribes and sub-tribes have distinctively matured themselves in different genres of music. The fluently used musical instruments are Baanhi, Dhol, Dotara, Gogona, Khol, Mridanga, Nagera etc. Even the dance forms can be found in variety and to name a few most prominent one’s we have Bihu dance, Bagurumba dance, Bhortal dance, Jhumair dance. The Bihu is a welcoming dance for Assamese new year, describing the life of a farmer, and is based on history and satire. Bagurumba is a folk dance performed by Bodo groups, during the Bodo festival celebrated in mid-April. Bhortal Nritya has been derived from the classical dance form of the state is known to have developed by a well known Satriya artist. Very attractive bright patterns are formed by men and women while performing this dance. Jhumair is a dance form of tea tribes or ‘Adivasis’ of Assam.
Although every single aspect of Assamese is heavily drawn from their ancestral culture, the cuisines have Bengali influence and consists of a delicate taste which can make anyone go nuts. Let’s have a look at a few prominent dishes of Assam. Khaar – I would like to keep this cuisine on the top as it is the main food of Assam and a non-vegetarian dish. This meat delicacy is made from the main ingredient khaar on which it is named and also has raw papaya, pubes and taro. All the above-mentioned ingredients are filtered through dry banana leaves. Silkworm – Yeah I know it sounds weird but Assamese love it. The larva is fried with spices and it becomes thick and crispy from the outside and remains liquid from the inside. Paro Manxho – This food is very popular in Assam. It’s essentially pigeon meat. Maasor Tenga – This is essentially a fish curry with a tangy touch.
Xutuli Pitha – A sweet dish just like “gujiya” famous during Holi in rest of India, except the filling which is done by powdered rice, jaggery and sesame seeds in Xutuli Pitha whereas in gujiya the fillings are done with Khoya and dry fruits.
The colourful rich and vibrant cultures Assam can be seen in its festivals. During the festive days Assamese live life to the fullest, adorn themselves with new clothes and showcase their dancing talents. Bihu Festival – The Famous Festival of Assam marks the beginning of the agricultural season and starts in mid-April, last for around a month. Ambubachi Festival – hosted in Kamakhya Devi temple the Mela is organised every year during monsoon. The legend behind this unique fair states that Goddess Kamakhya goes through her menstrual cycle for the first three days of the festivities. It’s a four days festival. Tea Festival – Assam is ranked second in the production of tea and to celebrate this glory and authentic taste of tea people celebrate this festival. Karam pooja is done by tea-producing communities to facilitate and please mother nature. Dehing Patkai Festival – This festival is hosted by the Government of Assam with a special message to save elephants and promote unity amongst people.
There are many other festivals celebrated by different tribes and sub-tribes. Baisagu is the most colourful festival celebrated by the Bodo kacharis. There are various number of festivals like me-dam-me-phi, Ali-aye-ligang, Kherai, rongkar, Hachang, Langkhun etc. Celebrated by the ethnic groups of Assamese people. All the festival celebrated in Assam are known for their association with nature and encouraging peace and harmony among people.
I’m currently an undergraduate English honours student with keen interest in exploring different facets of life. Part time writer by choice which came out as a stress buster. Proudly theist (a spiritual being). Affable and Gregarious. Not decisive yet confident and ambitious.