(Last Updated on : 21/01/2013)
The culture of Assam
is formed by co- mingling cultural elements of South East Asian countries. It is constituted of different sub systems. Symbolism is a key element of Assamese culture . Significant symbolic elements are Tamulpan, Xorai and Gamosa. Assames are hospitable and revered their ancestors;they show reverence towards betel leaves, symbolic clothes like Gamosa and traditional silk.
is the most popular festival celebrated by Assamese .The word Bihu is a derivation of ,visuvan implying all the Indian festivals colligated with March equinox. It is the celebration to welcome seasons and it is vital for a farmers life in Assam. Although this festival retained its originality it incorporated specific characteristics of the city life. Three Bihus namely rongali, the bhogali and kongali are observed at different times.
Rongali Bihu or Bohag Bihu
It is feted at the offset of the sowing season during spring . It also marks the beginning of Assamese new year and around 15th April as per English calender. Goru bihu or cow bihu commemorates the first day of festival and celebrated on the last day of the previous calendar year. .On that day the cows are laved and revered. manuh (human) bihu is celebrated on the next day which is the New Year Day for Assamese. Truly, it is celebrated in the territory of Assam in great fiesta. Woman make desi sweets called pithas and larus. Bihugeets
, traditional folk songs , are composed to create an ambience of delight and merry-making. In the Lakhimpur
area of Assam Pat Bihu, an archaic form of Bihu , is feted with ebullience . The myth is that Sukaphaa, the 1st among the Ahom kings, came to the region to have a glance of it. Rongali Bihu is regarded as a festival of fertility and the young women are encouraged participate with great juvillance , dancing and singing through out .
Kongali Bihu observed when the fields are lavish but the barns are abandoning. It is the time of full harvest. This is an occasion of less fun and frolic. Earthern lamps, popularly khown as saki, are illuminated near the paddy fields and at tulaxi plants feet .Farmers chanted and spinned the bamboo piece to avert devilish forces.
It is celebrated after harvesting the crops. It is also known as Magh Bihu as it is celebrated in the middle of January. Fun, feasts, community feeding are part and parcel of it. Small huts called mejis are built for preparing food and feasting. During ureka(night) the people circle around the bonfire and sing and play games. In the next morning they throw pithas and betel nuts in the fire . They also worship fire gods marking the finale of harvesting season . There are other conventional festivals observed by various enthno- cultural groups. Me-dam-me-phi , Ali-aye-ligang , Porag, Garja, Hapsa Hatarnai, Kherai are few among them.
Music is an integral part of Assamese culture. The people of diverse communities took shelter in various provinces and thus enhanced the musical affluence. Unlike popular Indian ragas , descending scale and pyramidal structure are a characteristic feature of Assam music. Dhaol, Marcus, Taal, Pepa , Gogona are the various musical instruments used during the performance. Categorically, we have the following music groups:
Ethnic Folk Music
Jhumur and Bharigaan are illustrious examples of musicpopular among the ethnic groups of people residing in Assam. Nothing much is known about this art form . Found in the western part , the tribes Pati Rabhas can acclaim the kudos for undertaking the task of its preservation. They used to perform it on special occasions. Due to lack of written scripts the performers had to depend on their memory and past experiences. Over the years Bharigaan had gone through trials and tribulations. The singers select songs from the great Indian epic Ramayana. It had no tie with Indian music of classical genre. At present, the performers are segregated into three groups. White wrist rings and don blue shirts are an integral part of their costumes. In the first chorus group, An Oja is the lead singer assisted by 4 or 5 palis . In the chorus , the job of the Palis is to lend voices for repeating the songs sung by the Oja. The second group, comprising of fours persons sung the prelude with twelve types of Khola bandana, the musical instruments. Among the four two beat the khol and the rest joins in the playing of paritala. In the third group, different artists enact on plots based on mythologies namely Kabya , Purana etc. The simplicity, lucidity of Bharigaan used to engross the rural folks, who are mostly illiterates, with awe. Bharigaan artists also use masks of various colours to décor the characters of Rakshasas, the Devils, to create the aura of fear amongst audiences.
The subject of the songs are conventional related to day- to- day chores of the commoners. Originally Jhumur was meant to be a source of entertainment for cultivators.
It got its nomenclature due to its unique feature of binding cluster of bells round the ankles. Clangorous noise of the bells soothes the audience mind. It is, nowadays, performed as a ritual in the worship of gods and also as a prayer for rainfall.
It is an indispensable part of Bihu festival. During Husori , an integral part of Rongali Bihu, the villagers ,in groups, move from door- to -door , joyfully singing carols . These chorus groups are known as Husori parties and only men could participate. At first the Husori singers would visit the Naamghar. Then they reach the household gate (podulimukh) heralding their arrival with beating drums. Thanksgiving of the housekeepers with tamul is followed by the singers new year blessings to the house.
Regional folk music
Kamrupiya Lokageet ,Goalporiya Lokageet , Ojapali are some popular folk Music of Assam.
Zikir and Borgeet fall in the category of Allies styles. Mainly devotional in nature they add fervor to the Assam music style. Sankaradeva and his disciple Mandhavadeva gifted us with devotional and lyrical compositions of Borgeet written in Brajavali or Brajabuli languages. The bhakti cult centered on the theme of Lord Krishna and the borgeets too abides by this tradition of devotional music. The unique ragas and talas are composed thus depicting its own distinctive style of ethereal musical melodies. This style is known as Kamarupi system as diverted from Hindhusthani and Karnataka systems. Ragas are recited only at the stipulated time; shyam, lalit, ahir are morning ragas and belowar, sindhura, suhai are sung in the evenings. It is the gayans and bayans who take the credit of preserving this treasure of ragas. These musicians lack in training and do not follow any rules of music; they sing from their hearts and rely on their power of memorizing. Stalwarts are the late Dayal Chandra Sutradhar of Barpeta Satra the late Gahan Chandra Goswami of Nikamul Satra, the late Girikanta Mahanta of Sravani Satra, the late Jadab Chandra Pathak of Sundaridiya Satra.
Critics said that the borgeets lack refinement and polish as no musical instruments like tanpura are used during performance. To keep pace with modernization Borgeets went through changes, which many traditionalists could not accept heartily. What remains unchanged is its entertaining quality.
Assam music too has welcomed the new trends of contemporary music. Musical exponents of India like Bhupen Hazarika, Nirmalendu Choudhury Utpalendu Choudhury ,Khagen Mahanta fall in this genre. Zubeen Garg, Jitul Sonowal, Debojit Saha are the news musical sensations of todays India.
:Assamese are very conventional, cordial and believe in plain living and high thinking. Education has been given priority and thus the region is nub of educational institutions like IIT Gwahati, Assam University. It is home of several ethnic communities, mainly speaking official languages like Assamese and Bodo. Bengali too is spoken in Assam especially in Barak Valley. The Assamese have got literary flair; fine literary works have developed fron this region of the country. The Charyapadas is regarded as the earliest instance of literature in Assam. During 17th to 19th Century Ad , prose chronicles, namely, Buranji, were in vogue. It flourished in the courts of Ahoms. The Modern era saw the marked influences of Missionaries. The American Baptists first published Bible in Assamese in the year 1819. In the year 1836, they also formed the first printing press in Sibsagar in 1836 and local Asamiya dialect was used for the first time for writing. A monthly periodical called Arunodoi, and the first book on Assamese Grammar were also published during this period. In 1867, The Missionaries printed the first Assamese-English Dictionary and M. Bronson hoarded it. Literauts like Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla, Hem Barua and others had embellished the modern Assamese literature
with their masterpieces. It is also land of renowned poets namely Anupama Basumatary, Ajit Barua, Anis-Uz-Zaman.
Assam too had a treasure of exquisite crafts and artifacts. It is copious in producing brass craft, metal craft, mask- making, potteries, cane and bamboo crafts, and jewelleries. The people of Assam have tried their hands in producing boats, traditional gun and gunpowder, iron utensils. Assam is known to the world for its dainty silk. The silk tinged with golden embroideries known, as Muga is prominent. Others include Pat silk, which is cream –colored meshed with silver color. Nice woolens called Eri are found here .The lineage of Assam rulers had presented the region with marvelous paintings. The people of Assam are very fond of sculpture and various art forms like graphics; applied arts Patuas and Chitrakars thrive in this region and are producing brilliant paintings. During Medieval period, important works paintings include Hastividyarnava, the Chitra Bhagawata and the Gita Govinda. Local painters used local paints like hangool and haital. The themes and designings of the famous work of Medieval period namely Chitra Bhagawata have influenced the Assamese paintings. No one can deny the contribution of “The guwahati Art College” in giving the country some creative painters of contemporary era. Assam is also copious in producing high quality of cinema.
The cuisine of Assam is oriented to typical East Indian style. Various local styles and external influences have contributed in the food preparation. The people devote less time for food preparation. Food are less spicy but has strong smell due to ample use of fruits and vegetables that are dried out and soured. Khar is the starter and people ends with consumption of tenga. The betel leaves and paan are the last items in the meal. Fish , rice, porks are favourite eatables.
Rise is the staple food of Asasmese. The people consume various preparations of rice like roasted and grounded rice called xandoh; boiled husk, chira, kamul saul. For the breakfast , Assamese use chira with jaggery and yogurt. Xandoh, kamul Saul is consumed as snacks. Pithas, as sweet dish is also made of rice and are used as delicacy for special festivals like Bihu.Fish stands next to rice as per its consumption rate. The people love fishes like rohu, illish, chital. Fish is indispensable in the tribal meals. To the Assamese “Tenga” is the hot favorite dish prepared from fish. Green leafy vegetables called xaak is widely eaten by the people of the region, especially during Rongali Bihu.
Various pickles and side dishes called “pitikas” are immensely popular in Assam. The most popular is aloo pitika (mashed potatoes). It is trimmed with raw onions, mustard oil, green chilies and boiled eggs.
Anointed gravy is prepared by boiling vegetables with water. Commonly used vegetables are beetroot, spinach kolhrabi, curry bananas, banana flower. Among the delicacies eri polu, soured vegetable called khorisa are popular.
Assam can thus be considered to be an epitome of scenic beauty mixed with robust cultural inheritance of its residents. Melancholic Bihu, music and humdrum lifestyle creates a mood of creativity and joy among the inhabitants.