Culture of Assam – Folk Music, Arts and Crafts

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Assam is all about natural beauty, scenic vistas, and rolling hills covered in tea plantations, and of course lots of adventure waiting to unfold right around the corner! From national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to immaculate gardens and picturesque sights, everything about Assam is a pure natural beauty. However, it is more than that. Someone had rightly said that if you wish to know more about a place get to know about the people who live there. It will not only make you educated about that place but will also make your trip more wholesome and who knows you may even gain a fresh perspective on things. The culture of Assam is very beautifully portrayed through their clothing style, language, food, festivals, and family dynamics.

We are already very familiar with the fact that India is a hub for culture, tradition, and heritage. With every corner of this beautiful sub-continent displaying its own wonder and significance, Assam is no less. With a rich history, unique geography, and centuries of continuous intermixing of tribes and people of varied origins, Assam has become a hybrid state with so many cultures of so many people that at one point it could get difficult to keep a track of it. No matter how difficult it may seem, in this article, I will be telling you about the culture and history of Assam.

Historical Perspective

The roots of Assamese people go way back to the time when early men had made their way to the Brahmaputra valley region of the subcontinent. They not only settled in these parts but also mixed with immigrants who belonged to different races like Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman people. After continuous waves of people coming into the valley region, the final migration was of the Tai-Shan clan who formed the foundation of the culture and identity of Assam.

It is said that Assamese culture developed somewhere around 750 years back in the era just before the birth of Jesus Christ. There are many records of Assam’s culture left in records during the rule of various different dynasties. In 1228 when Tai-Shans had entered Assam they ruled the place for the following 600 years which meant more scope for cultural assimilation. There were different dynasties ruling 4 different parts of Assam which meant some level of cultural ramifications within the boundaries of Assam. ‘

The 15th-century Religio-cultural movement called the Vaishnava movement which aimed to establish a new wave of bhakti and Hinduism meant more mixing of religions and cultures. However, the new Vaishnav Movement didn’t quite work out in these parts of the hills because the newly introduced culture was very different from what they believed in leading to more ethnocultural divisions than working as a unifying force.

By the 20th century, the government had identified that the heritage and culture of the Assamese could never be similar to the kind of religion they were trying to go for. They started to Localise their religion and protect them that way from any sort of cultural assimilation which they feel would alienate them from their roots.

Traditional Assamese Clothing

Some adjectives that would describe the traditional clothing style of the Assamese people would be elegant, comfortable, and mostly hand woven. While women adorn themselves in a piece of clothing called Mekhela Chador, men on the other hand wear Suria which can also be referred to as a dhoti, and drape the top with a Chadar or a Seleng. One of the most common and indispensable parts of traditional Assamese clothing is the white and red-colored cotton ‘gamucha’ which they carry around their neck like a summer stole. You can spot females wearing gamuchas by wrapping it around their waist and men just fold it up lengthwise and put it around their necks. This is one very distinctive feature of traditional Assamese clothing wear and any of their outfits remains incomplete if there is no Gamucha.

Folk Music in Assam

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that assa is the hub for great folk music. Just like other parts of India, Assam also has many tribes living there, which results in a very unique blend of varied music styles, instruments, and melodies. Ever since the Kamarupa kingdom was established in Assam, Ahom Dynasty, and many more that followed, Assam’s music culture has only been developing. Some of the most popular music that had been influenced by the folk music of the locals can be heard in Assamese singers like Bhupen Hazarika, Parvati Prasad Baruva, Jayanta Hazarika, Utpalendu Chowdhury, Nirmalendu Chowdhury, and many others. Classical Assamese songs are divided into 2 distinct parts namely Ojapali and Borgeet. These styles of music combine narrative singing with traditional dancing. The raga system is adopted in the Ojapali style of singing which may appear to be much more difficult to sing.

Arts And Crafts of Assam

The first things that you may have learned about Assam must have been through their unique and massive range of souvenirs that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. These arts and crafts styles emerged in Assam over 2,000 years back. Some traditional crafts that developed first were pottery, brass and terracotta work, Jewellery, and instrument making. They used techniques like weaving and utilized raw materials like bamboo, cane, and silk. The handloom industry of Assam is now experiencing a boom mainly due to the make in India movement and also raised awareness about the dying art. Many women these days can be seen weaving stuff and making decorative items. Several ethno cultural groups make different styles of cotton garments using unique embroidery designs and color patterns.

Other than the weaving and handloom industry, painting is one of the defining features of arts and crafts in Assam. Going by the traveling writings of a Chinese traveler in Assam during the 7th century, he noted that the paintings in Assam were breathtaking. The traditional paintings show the heavy influence of concept and design in the works such as Chitra Bhagwata.

Traditional Dance of Assam

Any traditional culture is incomplete without a dance that signifies who they are and what they truly believe in. It is also a way of carrying on their traditions which were forged by their ancestors. Some of the major dancing styles of Assam are Ojapali, Devdasi, and Satriya. Oja is kind of a fusion of dancing and acting through which they narrate a mythological story. Satriya is a type of dance that was developed by Sankardeva. Devadasi or Nati Nas is a simple and conventional temple dance which is strictly performed by unmarried women who have given up their whole life to the presiding deity. This is what makes this dance especially unique and special.

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