Namphake village: The Largest Tai-Phake Village Of Assam
Assam is among the most sought after north eastern states in India for tourists. It is not only the amazing natural diversity and enticing wildlife that woo the travelers in this hilly state. The amalgamation of diverse culture and tribes having various ethnicities is also worth observing. The numerous tribes residing in Assam have primarily Mongolian origin and despite their cultural and religious differences, they co–exist in harmony. Specifically speaking, over the last few centuries, Assam has served as the converging point for Indo-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman cultures to give birth to today’s very complex and unique Assamese culture.
‘Tai Phake’ is one such community that branched off its original roots outside Assam and silently integrated itself with the Assamese culture. An offshoot of the great Tai race, the Tai Phakes penetrated Assam in the latter half of the 18th century. The people of Tai Phake community are the residents of Namphake village. About 6 kilometers from the Upper Assam town of Naharkatiya and about 56 kilometers from Dibrugarh town, the village is located in the riverine area of Burhidihing.
The Namphake village was established in 1850 A.D. With around 600 members, the Phakial community in Namphake village is small as far as numbers are concerned. But they have maintained their culture and preserved their century old traditions, thereby making a vital contribution to the already diverse and rich Assamese culture. This Tai community worships Lord Buddha. There is a sprawling Buddhist monastery at the heart of this village. The monastery is considered as a meditation centre and has also developed into a very popular tourist spot to be visited in this village. The serene surrounding and natural beauty of the place make it a more unique location. This awe-inspiring Tai-Buddhist religious citadel includes several stupendous monuments within its premises. The monastery’s main temple houses a majestic 6 feet tall golden statue of Lord Buddha in sitting position. Another statue of Lord Buddha in a resting position also graces the monastery. Beautifully crafted mosaic, tiled and marble floors give this Buddhist shrine a sophisticated yet spiritual ambience.
There is a Buddhist Pagoda ( a pyramidal tower with an upward curving roof ) which was built in the late 30’s of the last century. A symbolic Ashoka pillar stands tall amidst all other monuments nearby. Near the pillar, a stilt house called “Chaitya-Griha” was constructed. It is a double entrance hall for religious offerings with the Buddha stupa or pagoda near its rear entrance. A distinctive water tank known as the “Mucalinda” tank or “Nong Mungchiringta” is worth a view inside the monastery. The water tank has a statue of meditating Buddha at its centre protected by a snake with its hood. There is a myth that, the king of all serpents “Mucalinda” came from beneath the earth to protect lord Buddha from a prodigious rain after he attained enlightenment. The tank’s architecture is a beautiful depiction of that sacred myth. The Buddha Vihara in the Namphake village treasures some of the ancient manuscripts and books which narrate the story of their journey, struggle and settlement. These are written in Tai Phake and Pali language. Over the time, Namphake village is growing as a heritage center attracting national and international tourists. The Tai Phakes have preserved their rich tradition, intangible culture, beliefs, material culture, practices, customs and language in this village. Due to its cultural significance the village has also attracted scholars from all over the world and media for doing research work about their culture.
The people of Namphake Village are festival-savvy. In the month of March, the villagers in Namphake observe the “Poi-Nen-Chi” festival in which they offer prayers to Lord Buddha in the “Chaitya-Griha”. “Poi-Chang-Ken” or “Poi-Shon-nam” or “Pi-hu” is the trademark event in namphake village which is celebrated every year on “Vishuva Sankranti”. The event usually falls in the month of April and coincides with the Rongali Bihu, a hugely popular festival celebrated on the occasion of Assamese new year. The Buddha purnima festival known as “Poi-Nun-Hok” observed on a sacred full moon night is celebrated to mark the birth of Lord Buddha. The festival date varies year to year, but usually falls in April or May. Another festival with significant religious overtones is the “Pai-Kathin” festival organised in October for distribution of religious clothing/robes of maroon or red colour known as “Kathin” to the Buddhist monks. The phakial people have several traditional dances of their own. Among them, the dance performed to welcome distinguished visitors is known as “Kapan”. The women folk use colourful umbrellas while tapping to the “Kachong” dance form. Another dance known as “Kakong” is accompanied with typical rhythmic drum beats.
The Tai Phakes prefer wearing their traditional attires. The women put on colourful hand woven garments. They wear ‘Chin’, an ankle length skirt. The upper garments are called “Nang Wat”. Men wear short kurtaas and fanut, which are dark colored lungis. They live in houses made on wooden polls. The walls and floors are composed of flattened bamboo strips while the house roofs are made of Takau leaves. These houses help them stay safe during the floods. For living, they mostly resort to agriculture. The fertile south bank of Burhidihing River is what they use. They harvest several crops, vegetables and fruits. They are mostly vegetarians and after the kids enter adolescence they vow not to slaughter animals in a ceremony named Ostomarg. While they strive to be educated, the Tai Phakes refrain from using modern medications. Instead, they rely on traditional herbal medicines. They marry within the community mostly but cross cultural marriage is not prohibited either. As of food habits, though the Tai Phake‟s are not restricted to any kind of food, rice is their staple. Most of their food is stir fried and they also prefer boiled vegetables, grilled meat and fish. They also prepared Pa som (sour fish), sour bamboo shoot, dried fish, dried meat, and fish wrapped in banana leaves, all put under fire ashes to be cooked.
The Tai Phake people of the Namphake village have tried to preserve their customs, tradition, their material culture and way of life in their ecological and cultural environment irrespective of the modern day lifestyle and trends followed by globalization. The village has grown into an interesting heritage center attracting tourists from different parts of the world. The village in itself appears to be a living museum with its salient features such as the Buddhist monastery, the typical bamboo stilt houses, the festivals, their food habit, rituals and practices. The ecology of Burhidihing river flowing through the heart of the village has influenced the life style of the people through time immemorial. Though less in number, and inspite of facing identity crisis, the Tai Phakes are able to maintain their glorious legacy. They maintain their distinctive culture, which can be seen in their festivals, traditional dresses and traditional food. Overall, the village is a hub of tangible and intangible cultural heritage and to have a glimpse of the culture and tradition of the Tai Phake community, people from every walks of life step into the village
After visiting the village and interacting with the community, understanding their way of life, culture, living tradition, practicing customs and rituals, the Namphake village can be conceptualized as a living museum where it has the possibility to offer different taste of their culture, both tangible and intangible, to the visitors. The village has diverse products to offer the visitors in the form of its pristine cultural heritage. The village attracts visitors from different parts of the state, from the country as well from other countries; it becomes an ideal place for the tourists who want to know about the ethic cultural heritage of the Tai Phake community. Starting from the beautiful Buddhist monastery, the unique architectural structure of the bamboo made stilt houses accompanied by the living cultural practices, colourful festivals, beliefs, traditions and customs to the never ending flow of the majestic Burhidihing river amidst the serene landscape of the village, an integral part of their socio-economic life, make a centre point of attraction to locals as well as international tourists. The beautiful handicrafts and colourful handloom items of the Tai Phakes are another point of attraction which showcases their finest skills. Exploring Namphake village as a living museum will not only rest on the expressions of the local culture and environment, but also act as a strong instrument for local development. Exploring the idea of a living museum concept in the Tai Phake community of Namphake village will take into account a holistic and integrated approach which can be effectively used to promote and safeguard the Intangible cultural heritage of the community. It will also contribute to the overall protection of the Tai Phakes cultural richness, the significance, values and meanings of their cultural expression.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
You can visit the beautiful and serene village in Assam any time of the year.
The months of October to March are supposed to be the best time to plan holidays here as you get to see many colorful festivals that are celebrated in this village.
HOW TO REACH
Naharkatiya is the nearest town which is well linked to Dibrugarh. There is a rail station in Naharkatiya too. Mohanbari in Dibrugarh is the nearby airport. Also There are many rental car agencies that provide cab service from Mohanbari directly to Namphake Village. Other local transports like auto rickshaws and taxis also take you to Namphake village from nearby locales.