Assam is the meeting ground of diverse cultures. The people of the enchanting state of Assam is 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 is the Vaishnavas (a sect of Hinduism). The Vaishnavas do not believe in idol worshiping and perform Namkirtana 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 center 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 national 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. Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims represent the largest minorities, followed by Nepalis and populations from neighboring regions of India. The most important social and cultural celebrations are the three Bihu festivals observed with great enthusiasm irrespective of caste, creed and religious affinity. From time immemorial, the people of Assam have traditionally been craftsmen. Artists, sculptors, masons, weavers, spinners, potters, goldsmiths, artisans of ivory, wood, bamboo, cane and hide have flourished in Assam from ancient times.
Weaving is one traditional craft that every Assamese woman takes pride in. The Assamese women produce silk and cotton clothes of exquisite designs in their looms. Assam is renowned for its exquisite silks namely Eri, Pat and the world famous Muga silk. Gandhiji complimented the Assamese weavers as artists who could weave dreams in their looms.
The Gamocha is one of the most easily recognizable cultural symbols of the Assamese people besides the tamol-paan (areca nut & betel leaf) which is an integral part of almost all socio-religious ceremonies.
The Gamocha, 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. Gamochas, also known as bihuwaans, are offered during Bihu as a token of love. Significantly the gamocha is used equally by all, irrespective of religious and ethnic backgrounds.
DANCES OF ASSAM
Bihu is the most popular folk dance of Assam. Bihu dances are performed by young boys and girls during the Bihu festivities which represent youthful passion, reproductive urge, and joy.It is characterized by brisk dance steps, and rapid hand movement. Dancers wear traditionally colorful Assamese clothing. The dances are accompanied by musical instruments like dhol(dholak), penpa, gagana, banhi(flute) etc. Though the origins of the Bihu dance is unknown, the first official endorsement is cited to be when Ahom king Rudra Singha invited Bihu dancers to perform at the Ranghar fields sometime around 1694 on the occasion of Rongali Bihu.
Satriya Nritya is the classical dance form of Assam which represents the Satriya culture, the basis of the religious and cultural fabric of Assam. It is one among eight principal classical Indian dance traditions. Whereas some of the other traditions have been revived in the recent past, Satriya has remained a living tradition since its creation by the founder of Vaishnavism in Assam, the great saint Srimanta Sankardeva, in 15th century Assam. The core of Satriya Nritya has usually been mythological stories. This was an artistic way of presenting mythological teachings to the people in an accessible, immediate, and enjoyable manner.
Barpeta’s Bhortal Nritya
Bhor Tal Nritya is an extension of Sankari culture. Six to ten dancers equipped with cyrnbols perform this dance to the first bit of ‘7hiya Nom” and produces a good number of attractive formations displaying the cymbols. The dance can be seen during festive occasions in and around Barpeta and Guwahati.
Tea Folk’s Jhumur Dance
In the passage of more than a hundred years of their settlement in Assam, the tea tribes have developed a synthesized form of dance called “Chah Baganar Jumur Nach”. This is a beautiful dance to watch. A visitor to any tea gardens can easily see this dance. The tea tribes have a synthesized form of dance called “Jhumur Nach”, performed by girls and boys together, or, sometimes by the girls alone, with the precision of footwork while clasping tightly each other’s waist.
Bodo community has many folk dances to boast. Among them, the best and the most attractive is the Bagurumba dance. This is mainly a formation dance with slow steps and outstretched hands. About a score of girls dressed in most colorful attire performs this dance to the accompany- the merit of Bodo traditional musical instruments. A tourist in Assam can see this dance in the Bodo inhabited areas of Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Nalbari, Darrang and Sonitpur districts. It is the usually practiced during Bwisagu, a festival of the Bodos in the Bishuba Sankranti or Mid-April. The Bagurumba dance is also called “butterfly dance” because of this attractive folk dance of the Bodo tribe of Assam, resembles the movement of birds and butterflies. Then young people reverentially bow down to their parents and elders.