Culture of Assam

Description

Assam is the meeting ground of diverse cultures. The people of the enchanting state of Assam are an intermixture of various racial stocks such as Mongoloid, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian and Aryan. The Assamese culture is a rich and exotic tapestry of all these races evolved through a long assimilative process. The natives of the state of Assam are known as "Asomiya" (Assamese), which is also the state language of Assam. The state has a large number of tribes, each unique in its tradition, culture, dress and exotic way of life.

Diverse tribes like Bodo, Kachari, Karbi, Miri, Mishimi, Rabha, etc co-exist in Assam; most tribes have their own languages though Assamese is the principal language of the state. A majority of the Assamese are Vaishnavas (a sect of Hinduism). The Vaishnavas do not believe in idol worshiping and perform "Naamkirtana", where the glory of Lord Vishnu is recited. The two important cultural and religious institutions that influence the cultural fabric of Assam: the "Satras", the site of religious and cultural practice which have been in existence for over 400 years and the "Naamghar", the house of prayers. Villagers generally associate on the basis of membership of a local Centre of devotional worship called "Naamghar". Villages are usually made up of families from a number of distinct castes.

In Assam, the caste system, although it exists, is not as prominent as in other parts of India. Other religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam etc. are also practiced in Assam. The state festival of Assam is the Bihu which is celebrated in three parts during a year with great pomp and grandeur by all Assamese, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. There are various elements which are being used to represent beliefs, feelings, pride, identity, etc and are considered as important symbolic elements in Assamese culture. The quintessential symbols are the Asomiya"Gamucha", "Jaapi", "TamulPaan" and "Xorai". Traditional attire worn by women called the "Mekhela Chador" and Assamese jewellery also form an integral part of the Assamese culture.

Gamucha

The "Gamucha" is one of the most easily recognizable cultural symbols of the Assamese people and is an integral part of almost all socio-religious ceremonies. It is considered as an honorary piece of cloth commonly used for felicitation...

The "Gamucha" is one of the most easily recognizable cultural symbols of the Assamese people and is an integral part of almost all socio-religious ceremonies. It is considered as an honorary piece of cloth commonly used for felicitation in Assam.

Gamucha, an honorary piece of cloth commonly used for Felicitation in Assam

The "Gamucha", a white rectangular piece of cotton hand woven cloth with primarily a red border on three sides and red woven motifs on the fourth (in addition to red, other colors are also used) is put to many uses. It is used as a towel, as a waistcloth or a loincloth; a Bihu dancer wraps it around the head in a knot, it is also hung around the neck at the prayer hall and thrown over the shoulder to signify social status or respect. "Gamucha"s", also known as "Bihuwaans", are offered during Bihu as a token of love. Significantly the "Gamucha" is used equally by all, irrespective of religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Tamul Paan

"Tamul Paan" (the areca nut and betel leaves) or Guapan are considered as the offers of devotion, respect and friendship...

"Tamul Paan" served in a Bota, a traditional Bell metal Utensil

"Tamul Paan" (the areca nut and betel leaves) or Guapan are considered as the offers of devotion, respect and friendship. Guests are offered "Tamul Paan" in a traditional bell metal serving "Bota" as a mark of honour. Chewing "Tamul Paan" gives a kind of high and feel good factor. "Tamul Paan" is integral part of all social and religious ceremonies of the Assamese people. It is an ancient tradition and is being followed since time-immemorial.

Jaapi

The "Jaapi" is a traditional conical hat from Assam which is made from tightly woven bamboo and/or cane and "Tokoupaat", a type of large palm leaf. The word "Jaapi"derives from Jaap meaning a bundle Tokou leaves...

The "Jaapi" is a traditional conical hat from Assam which is made from tightly woven bamboo and/or cane and "Tokoupaat", a type of large palm leaf. The word "Jaapi"derives from Jaap meaning a bundle Tokou leaves.

Jaapi, a traditional symbol of Assam

"Jaapi" is worn in a style of Bihu dance, used as protection against the elements, offered as a sign of respect in ceremonies, and placed as a decorative item around the house, especially near the front door as a welcome sign. Plain "Jaapi" were used by farmers for protection from the sun and rain while working in the fields, while ornate "Jaapi" were worn as a status symbol by Assamese royalty and nobility.

Xorai

"Xorai" a traditional symbol of Assam, is a manufactured bell-metal product and is considered as an article of great respect by the people of Assam...

Traditional Bell Metal "Xorai"

"Xorai" a traditional symbol of Assam, is a manufactured bell-metal product and is considered as an article of great respect by the people of Assam. There are "Xorai"s" with or without a cover on the top. Hajo and Sarthebari are the most important centers of traditional bell-metal and brass crafts in Assam.

Xorai"s"are used to offer "Tamul Paan" as a sign of welcome and thanks for guests. It is also used as a utensil to offer Prasad, food and other items in front of the Lord in an altar or "Naamghar". "Xorai"s" are also used as decorative pieces and are also offered as a gift to a person of honour during felicitations.

Mekhela Chador

Assam is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent and prestigious being "Muga", the natural golden silk exclusive only to Assam. Apart from "Muga", there are other two varieties called "Paat", a creamy-bright-silver coloured silk and "Eri", a variety used for manufacturing warm clothes for winter...

Assam is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent and prestigious being "Muga", the natural golden silk exclusive only to Assam. Apart from "Muga", there are other two varieties called "Paat", a creamy-bright-silver coloured silk and "Eri", a variety used for manufacturing warm clothes for winter. Apart from Sualkuchi, the centre for the traditional silk industry, in almost every part of the Brahmaputra Valley, rural households produce silk and silk garments with excellent woven designs. Moreover, various ethno-cultural groups in Assam make different types of cotton garments with unique woven designs and wonderful colour combinations.

Traditional Mekhela Chadors are made from Cotton, Muga, Paat Silk or Eri Silk.  However, now a day"s some modern low-budget Mekhela Chadors are also made with varying blends of Cotton and Muga or Paat Silk with synthetic materials.