Culture of Assam:
Assam is a land of people of myriad races, castes, languages and separate socio-economic fields. Communities of the ancient origin such as Aryan and non-Aryan, numerous tribes, sub-tribes, Mongoloid and Australoid and many more dwell in Assam. Therefore, the culture of Assam is a blend of tradition, lifestyle, faith, belief and religions of the different communities living in Assam.
Assam’s culture has a rich heritage infused with the various fairs and festivals, dance and music, languages, arts and crafts and delicious cuisines. The Assamese have given a distinguished shape to it by retaining their age old traditions, rituals and celebrations. There is a cultural intermingling of people of different races and fields living in harmony under one roof in Assam.
Assam, known as the ‘Gateway of the Northeast’ is the link connecting India to the other seven north-eastern sister states. The Assamese culture dates back to thousand years earlier when the
first cultural intermix happened between the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman people. The current original form of the Assamese culture can be said to have its origin roots in the great dynasties of Pragjyotisha and Kamarupa during the first millennium AD. Later during the year 1228, the Tai Shans entered Assam under the leadership of Sukaphaa and a new cultural assimilation took place. The Tai Shan people mixed with the local culture and adopted the language along with some elements mixed with their own.
After these, the Vaishanav Movement started in Assam during the 15th century propagated by the great Assamese reformer and Saint Mahapurush Shrimanta Sankardeva and his disciples. This movement brought a sea of change and new principles in the culture of Assam. This led to the creation of Satras and Namghars which became a part of the Assamese culture. There was also contribution to the language of Assam, the literature and fine arts. With time, the Assamese culture adopted new modern forms with the Britishers entering Assam. They standardized the language and a renewed Sanskritisation was adopted for developing Assamese language and grammar.
The Assamese culture is composed of different sub systems. It is incorporated by elements of symbolism which puts it apart from other culture types in India. Some of the significant cultural
traits of Assamese culture are:
Areca nut and betel leaves:
Tamolpan (areca nut and betel leaves) is considered as offers of devotion, respect and friendship. There is a significant tradition of Assam of offering Tamolpan to guests and elders as a sign of respect.
There is a tradition of offerings of tamolpan and other gifts in a Xorai (a bell metal traditional object of Assam).
Jaapi is a symbol of respect. It is a traditional Assamese headgear or hat offered to guests.
Symbolic cloth type of Assam like Gamosa:
The Gamosa is a significant object of Assam. It is a rectangular white piece of cloth with red border on three sides and woven motifs on the two ends. Guests in Assam are welcomes with the offering of Gamosa along with the Tamolpan. The Gamosa can be said to be a symbolism of the life and culture of Assam.
Art and Craft of Assam:
Another important aspect of the culture of Assam is its excellence in art and craft. The people of Assam are naturally born artisans of handloom and handicraft. Different types of arts and craft, handloom and handicraft items, wooden items, metal items, paintings and jewelry of the state puts it apart from all other cultures of India. The exquisite silk, bamboo and cane products of Assam helps it stand out among the northeastern states. The land has given birth to thousands of skilled craftsmen who have retained the state’s rich cultural tradition over the centuries. The people of Assam have a special skill of crafting. There are several small scale cottage industries and most of the people are engaged in different types of handicraft making in Assam. Bamboo and cane products, handicrafts, metal crafts and other forms craft making are some of the activities in art and craft of Assam.
Cane and Bamboo Products of Assam:
Cane and bamboo products are one of the exquisite products of Assam. Making of bamboo products is one of the prime occupations of the people of Assam. Cane and bamboo products like different furniture, accessories, musical instruments, bags, utensils and decorative items are made in Assam. These products of Assam have now received immense recognition not only in the national market but also in the international market and are much in demand.
One of the significant items of cane and bamboo of Assam is the Jaapi, which is the traditional sunshade and is one of the prestigious bamboo items of Assam. Japi is also presented as a token of rich heritage of Assamese culture to personalities and is also used in important occasions.
Metals of Assam:
Use of metal is a very important part of the culture of Assam. Brass metal and bell metal are extensively used in Assam. The brass and bell metal products of Assam are highly durable and are famous for their beauty and unique crafting. The principle metal products include xorai (a plate or tray mounted on a base), koloh (water pot), kahi (dish), bati (bowl) and taal (cymbals). The traditional utensils of Assamese culture are made mostly of Bell-metal and brass metal. The Xorai and Bota are used to offer beetle-nut and paan to welcome guests. The bell metal industry is located in Sarthebari and the brass metal industry is concentrated in Hajo in Kamrup district of Assam.
Handloom forms another most important part of the culture of Assam. Handloom works in Assam are mostly handled by the womenfolk where women weave clothes in different looms. There are about thirty thousand looms located across the state. Sualkuchi, popularly known as the ‘Manchester of the East’ is the centre of handloom in Assam. More than 3000 weavers work regularly in the looms of Sualkuchi. The looms use mostly raw materials like cotton, Muga, paat (mulberry silk) and endi. Muga silk clothes are most sought after and their market is not only based in Assam and India but also have their demand in abroad. The designs on these Muga clothes are fine creations, birds, animals and other designs. Muga is the finest of India’s wild silk, produced only in Assam.
During the time of festivities shopping jeweleries can be worthwhile. So, this Durga Puja I opted for traditional Assamese jewellery. Last Sunday I landed myself in Zangfai jewellery shop, a traditional Assamese jewellery shop in Guwahati. I was so overwhelmed seeing the majestic collection and the hospitality of the owner. The owner would display all the items for you. She would also suggest you what to buy and which would look good on you. And if you are lucky enough (like I was) you would get discount also.
Like Zangfai there are also many shops in Assam known for having exquisite jewellery. From the wide range of traditional Assamese jewellery sets you can choose necklaces like jon biri, satsori, golpata, magardana, gejera, bena, goog doogi, dhol biri, mukuta Moni, biri moni, poalmoni and silikha moni.
You also get varieties in earrings which comes in lokaparo, jangphai, thuriya, keru, long Keru, sona or makori.
If you are a lover of rings then Assamese jewellery has specialities like enpata, jethinejia, horinsakua and bakharpata. You can also go for gam- kharu which is a large bracelet made of silver or gold with a clasp.
Assamese jewellery is the traditional jewellery of Assam. Called Axomiya gohona, these kinds of jewellery are designed exclusively in Assam. Typically hand-made, Assamese jewellery designs depict the flora and fauna treasures of Assam. They hold special importance in the heart of the Assamese women and are worn during cultural and religious events. Objects of nature like bird, grain and animals; musical instruments like drums; Assamese stuffs like japi etc are designed in these unique jewellery.
Assamese jewellery is decorated with vibrant red gemstone, mina and ruby stones. Red, blue, green and black are the most favorite colours attracting people. Assamese jeweleries are made in silver based and gold foil plated, silver based with plastic stones gold foil plated and silver based with minakari gold dipped.
Jorhat, the second biggest city of Assam after Guwahati, is the main centre of jewellery making in Assam. Numerous outlets are located in Jorhat where people come to buy Assamese jewellery. There are also a number of small scale and cottage industries where skilled jewellery makers work to promote this kind of art.
Axomiya gohona comes in a very affordable rate. The range of a typical jewellery set starts from Rs 2,000 onwards. Assamese jewellery is also very easy to maintain as you have to wrap the stuffs in cotton and it will continue to glaze always. Accessorize your favourite mekhela chador, saree, suit or skirts with Axomiya gohona and flaunt your attitude this Durga Puja.
The Assamese people are skilled in making items of wood. They can make out the quality of the wood by touching it and can make finest craftwork out of it. Woodcraft in Assam is prevalent from earlier times where one can see the decorative panels of the royal Ahom palaces and the ancient Satra works are also carved on wood. The various items of a Satra along with the Guru Asana are carved on wood.
The toys of Assam can be categorized based on the material of their making. There are wooden toys, toys made from clay and cloth or cloth-and-mud toys. The toys are made in different shapes of Gods, Goddesses, mythological figures, variety of animal forms and many other forms. These toys are made by the Kumar and Hira communities in Assam. Toys depicting figures of Gods, Goddesses, animals and birds are made mostly in the Goalpara district in Assam. The cloth and clay toys are generally used for puppet theaters in Assam.
Pottery is the oldest form of art and craft activity prevalent in Assam. There have been craftsmen of ancient civilizations and kingdoms who are engaged in pottery making. There are many items made from this craft form like pitchers, plates, incense stick holders, earthen lamps and so on. The Kumar and the Hira are the two most important communities in Assam engaged in pottery making. When the Kumars use the wheel to make pots, the Hiras do not use any wheel to engage in pottery making.
The Assamese people are also skilled at making masks out of wood, bamboo, terracotta, metal and clay. These masks are widely used in Bhaonas (play) and folk theatres which are staged across the state. Masks are also made as decorative items in drawing rooms as wall hangings.
The traditional paintings of Assam can be traced to ancient times where different paintings and painted objects were presented to rulers and kings of earlier times. The Ahom palaces and Satras even now have these painting works made earlier. So, paintings form an important part of the culture of Assam since earlier times. In the present times also paintings are important forms of depicting the culture of the state.
Assamese Fibre Weaving:
Kuhila koth is a famous handicraft mostly done in Batadrava area of Nagaon district. This is woven on a loom like item made of wood and bamboo poles. It is used to make seats, mats and cushions. It is also a recognized cottage industry in Assam.
Dances of Assam:
Assam is a land of mystique and picturesque beauty. The land of blue hills and red river, Assam is known for its many dance forms, especially the bihu dance.
Among all the dances of Assam, Bihu dance is the most popular dance. This dance is performed in the month of April. Bihu is the folk dance of Assam. Men and women in their traditional dresses take part in Bihu dance. Bihu dance is accompanied by Bihu songs and Bihu musical instruments.
Bihu is the most important festival of the Assamese community. Being the state festival of Assam, Bihu is celebrated thrice in a year. There are three types of Bihu– Bhogali bihu, Rongali bihu and Kongali bihu. Rongali or Bohag Bihu is celebrated with much festivity and joy during the month of April. Bihu dance is associated with the Rongali Bihu. The Bihu dance is a graceful and beautiful form of folk dance of Assam. Programmes are held of the Bihu dance and other dances of Assam during the Rongali Bihu. Bihu dance competitions are also held in Bihutolis across the state.
The Bihu dance is a folk dance and a joyful dance performed by both men and women. This dance is characterized by brisk steps and swift hand movements in sync with the beats. In this dance, both the male and the female maintain separate gender roles. The females dance in lines and circles and the males enter the dancing area first and maintain their lines. After the female dancer enters, the male group breaks up and dances by mingling with the female dancers.
The Bihu dance is said to be a dance of fertility. The dance with its sensuous movements using the hips and arms is said to celebrate the fertility of men and women. The dance is characterized by movement of hips, arms, wrists into twirls, squats and bends without any jumps included in the dance.