Art & Culture of Assam
The beautiful gateway of North East, Assam is a land of rich art and culture. The art and culture of Assam is known all over the country. Assam is home to numerous tribes and myriad peoples. It goes without saying, therefore, that it is also a treasure trove of a multiplicity of cultures, folklores and belief systems. Its geography has in a sense, ensured its place as the ground for an ongoing migration of people, materials and ideas: Assam has always been the strategic location for the coming together of varied races and cultures; the cultural mosaic that has thereby evolved is both diverse and vibrant. As the well-known geographer, O.H.K. Spate pointed out; Assam seems to have evolved its own unique individuality in terms of both terrestrial physicality and cultural life. Situated at the ‘tri-junction' of Indo-Chinese, Indo-Malayan, and the Indian sub-regions of Southeast Asia, Assam is more akin to other Southeast Asian regions than say – Northern India – both in terms of climate and vegetation. As far as ethnicities are concerned, the region has absorbed and assimilated with the Mongoloid population groups who entered into Assam in several waves from their homelands in Tibet, China, Thailand and Southeast Asia.
|Assam is a land that could mesmerize you with its mythology and magic; its flora and fauna could leave you amazed at its sheer variety. Travelers have vouched for its pristine beauty – the divine blue skies and the lush green valleys. In a sense, the beauty of its natural resources: the virgin woods, the mineral-rich earth, its powerful rivers, its hills and rivers, the jungles and the swamps, the heavy-rainfall and pleasant climate gives Assam a distinctive identity that is all its own; very different from the rest of the country.|
The demographic structure of Assam consists of a racial intermixture of Mongolian, Indo-Burmese, and Indo-Iranian and Aryan origins. This broad racial mix is the peculiar to the state of Assam, and its people are referred to as "Asomiya" or the "Assamese" - which also denotes the state language of Assam. The hilly tracts of Assam are mostly found to be inhabited by tribes of Mongolian origin.In the tribal languages one may discern borrowed words and conceptions from Assamese and vice versa – all of which again point to the subtle racial intermixing. It is believed that at one time, the Khasis spoke of the Hindu God Viswakarma and the Jaintias offered sacrifices to the Goddesses Kali and Durga. In other instances, one may refer to the Garo tales that seem to have marked similarities with the Jataka Tales; the Nagas have their own version of the Panchatantra;the Siju of the Bodos
|carries the same references that comprise the five elements of creation in other parts of India. It also resonates with the complexities of identity formation in the state: people of various hues came, settled down, mixed with the local tribal elements, and merged into the community that came to be known as the ‘Assamese'.It is established by linguists that both the Sanskrit and the Assamese languages played instrumental roles in bringing the diverse groups closer.|
The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang, who is known to have visited Assam during the reign of Bhaskar Varman noted that the language of Kamrupa "differed a little from that of mid-India".
Given its complex demography, the social structures found in Assam are obviously heterogeneous. The ‘Varnashrama' system is prevalent, but the ‘caste' system was never rigidly enforced here. Many of the ills of northern Indian practices such as child marriage or the dowry system is not typically found in this land. The Vaishnavas of Assam, who are strict vegetarians elsewhere in India, partake of meat and fish here – this is partly so because the cuisine is meat intensive - ducks, pigeons, tortoise, fish are important parts of the menu in any given Assamese household. Such non-restrictive food habits perhaps made it easier for the tribal peoples to enter into the Hindu fold – one must remember that Assam became an important place for Tantricism, with its renowned centre at the Kamakhya temple.
Apart from Sakta Hinduism, one of the major cultural markers that shape the cultural landscape of Assam was Vaishnavism. Like the rest of India, this was a reform movement within Hinduism, and by the turn of the 15th century scholars and thinkers like Sankardeva had begun to radically alter the existing belief structures and practices. Sankardeva and his disciples adopted Vaishnava scriptures and wrote prose versions of the Gita and the Bhagavata in Assamese; introduced religious themes into drama that was performed in the local language, taught the people songs and dances devoted to the praise of Vishnu, along with practical suggestions on everyday life: how to live cleanly, in body, mind and spirit. The Satra or Vaishnava establishments initiated by Sankardeva were democratically run great centers embodying his motto: ‘eka deva eka seva bine nahi kewa' (one God, one faith, none else than that One). The caste system was further diluted with the advent of this great saint who preached that there should be no discrimination between caste and creed in the path of devotion to the Almighty. Given this egalitarian nature of Sankardeva's religion, the ‘low' caste people were allowed into the ‘Namghars' or prayer-halls along with the members of the other castes.
Assam strategically forms the eastern gateway of India and is the corridor for passage of people, commodities and ideas between the two great ancient civilizations of the world – the Chinese and the Indian. Historians have noted that since the pre-historic period (about 4000 B.C.), Neolithic peasants from the Hwang Ho and Yantgtze Kiang valleys were migrating to the hills and the valleys of North-East India. These routes were extensively used for trade between India and China as well as with the western world, long before the famed ‘Silk Route' through central Asia was opened. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, written in the first Century A.D., is a Greek Account of Arabian Sea navigation and marine trade between India, Egypt and the Roman world, which gives indications of the trade carried on by ‘Kirata' or the Mongoloid inhabitants of Assam linking up India with Tibet and China. Similarly, records left by the Chinese soldier-explorer Chang Kien, in the second century B.C., speaks of a trade route from Assam to South-West China through which Chinese goods like silk and bamboo flutes reached India in transit to the western world. The famed present-day silk industry of Assam which is its principal cottage industry further confirms the age-old connection between India and China. This trade route was closed by the British at the end of last century.
Various Art Form of Assam
Dances of Assam:
Assamhas an age-old strong tradition of music and dance. The heritage of Classical dance in Assam goes back a long time in history. In Bharata's Natya Sastra (2nd century B.C.) the name of ‘Pragjyotishpura' (modern Assam) indicates that the dance ‘Odramagadhi' was practiced here. Supposedly when the Chinese traveler ‘Hiuen Tsang' visited the Kamrupa king Bhaskarvarmana in the 7th century, he was entertained with music and dances every day for one month. Old inscriptions and sculptural relics represent many dancing figures; some holding various types of musical instruments. In the Tantric text, Kalika Purana (11th or 12th century A.D) there are references to vocal and instrumental music as well as dances in connection with different rituals.
In Assamese dances, ‘Hastas' (hand gestures), ‘Shirokarma' (head movements), and ‘Padachari' (foot work) etc are performed in a very elaborate manner. The foot-work is very intricate and is called ‘Balan' or ‘Gati'. ‘Hasti Balan' is a slow majestic step of elephant; ‘Maira Balan' is the step of the peacock and so on. There are also several kinds of ‘Karanas' or body postures. They are extremely expressive and require long hours of practice to master. These postures of the body accompany the movement of head, neck, eyes and feet. The hand gesture is called ‘Hasta' or ‘Mudra' and is performed with single or both the hands. The combinations of various hastas are nearly a hundred in number.
The dances of Assam can be classified in to three types:
(i) The Nati dance of Sivaite and Vishnuite temples of Assam,
(ii) The dance of the non-neo-Vaishnava Oja-Pali chorus, and
(iii)The neo-Vashnava Satra dances.
Notably, the first type has become extinct. The second variety is still found in the Mongaldai district and the last is practiced in the Satras of the Brahmaputra Valley. This dance is the Satriya, the classical dance of Assam.In the present day the dances of Assam are classified into three main categories. They are classical dance, folk dance and tribal dance.
Sattriya, the Classical Dance Form of Assam:
The main classical dance form that has grown from strength to strength since its origins is the Satriya. This is a performance art form that epitomizes the dance culture of Assam. It was recently recognized as a ‘classical' dance form and it is now counted among the finest of the classical dances of India. An Assamese religious reformer, Sri Sankardeva, preached a unique philosophy of a new Vaishnavism and from it grew the particular form. The word, ‘satriya' comes from ‘satra' – the neo-Vaishnavaite monasteries which were established by the reformer. The Satra style was evolved early in the 15th century, when the great Vaishanava saint composed his dance dramas and songs. Obviously, then, this dance form is steeped in spiritualism and has a religious core. Satriya has its own music and literature. Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhavdeva created a large number of lyrics based on different raags and taal pattern. These compositions are known as Bargeets and they are based on the description of Lord Krishna.
The Sattriya Dance:
Sattriya is an important dance tradition of Assam. It has its structural grammar which is known as Mati Akhora, they are combination of dance and acrobatic poses. There are 64 types of Mati Akhora.
It was only on 15th November 2000, that the Sattriya dance was officially recognized as a classical form, and has since gained the considerable acclamation in India.
|Majuli is the epicenter of Sattriya dance. Like other classical dances, the Sattriya dance also has its own distinctive characteristics. The five main parts of the Sattriya Dance as created by the two great gurus were (1) ‘Purbaranga' with a ‘Dhemali', (2) ‘Krishna Bandana' with a ‘Nandi Stok' and a ‘Bhatima', (3) ‘Ramdani', which was a pure dance, (4) ‘Geetar Nach', which had ‘Abhinaya' with dance, and (5) ‘Mela Nach', which was another pure dance at the end. Madhavdeva, Sankardeva's disciple, incorporated Mela Nach into the system.The dance generally narrates mythological scenes. The Sattriya Dance is an important ritual in monasteries and is performed daily by male monks of the monastery. Like all other classical dances, Satriya too encompasses the three main features of a dance, ‘Nritta' (pure dance), ‘Nritya' (expressive dance) and ‘Natya' (abhinaya). The dance is accompanied by songs called ‘Bargeet' which are based on classical ragaas.|
The first position is known as ‘Ora', the two parts of ‘Ora' are ‘Tandava' and ‘Lasya'. This is same as the ‘Aramadi' in Bharatnatyam and ‘Soak' in Odissi. The movements of neck (Griba), eye (Dristi) and foot (Pada chalona) are note worthy in this dance.
|The ‘paak' or body movements are extremely graceful in the Sattriya. ‘Matiakhora' are the basic exercises that help in the formation of the body and clarity of hands. It is considered to be the basic grammar of the dance.There are 64 types of Matiakhora and they are divided into eight broad categories – ‘ora', ‘sata', jhalak', ‘sitika',‘paak', ‘jhap', ‘lon', and ‘khar'. The musical instruments that are used in the Satriya dance are ‘khol', ‘taal', ‘bahi', ‘nagara', violin, ‘tanpura', harmonium, ‘kaah', ‘shankha', and ‘doba'. The names of the traditional costumes are – the ‘lohonga', the ‘tangali', the ‘kasali',|
|Sattriya Dance performed at Kamalabari Sattra|
the ‘paguri', the blouse, the dhooti, and the ‘chadar'.The jewellary used are ‘sitipati', ‘golpata', ‘dholebiri', ‘bena', ‘dugdugi', ‘lokaparo', ‘keru', ‘thuria', ‘sona', ‘gaamkharu', ‘muthikharu' and ‘junuka'.Some of the noted exponents of the Satriya dance in Assam are Ghanakanta Datta Barbayan, Jatin Goswami, Ghanakanta Barbayan, Paramanada Barbayan, and Nabadev Krishna Sankar Bharati etc.
Dance drama in Assam
The Oja-Pali is the most distinctive form of folk dance drama in Assam. The group is an amalgam of chorus singers and dancers led the ‘Oja'; and ‘Pali' – his assistants. They dance, play small cymbals and sing narrative songs from the Epics and the Puranas. The Oja wears ‘Ghuri', bangals, ‘unti', ring, ‘nupur' and ‘tangali'. The classification of ‘Svaras' into the ‘Oja-Paliinto', the ‘ghora' mantra and the ‘tara' corresponds to the Indian classical ‘udara', ‘mudara' and ‘tara'. The songs sung by ‘Ojas malaci' or ‘malanci geets' and ‘jagar' are in the Sanskrit language; albeit they also sing a kind of mixed song, the ‘Patsha geet'.
The Oja-Pali troupes can be divided in to two – the one connected to the Vaishanava tradition and other to the Manasa cult. The former, known as ‘Ramayan-goa' Oja-Pali uses recitation of verses from the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. The other is known as the ‘Sukanayani Sukamani' Oja-Pali and draws its themes from the Padmapurana written by Sukavi Narayanadev. This style of Oja-Pali is popular in the Goalpara district.Srimanta Sankardeva improved this performance art and in the process, gave shape to Assamese drama.In the recent years some artists have been trying to make it more popular and they seem to have succeeded in generating a lot of interest in the art form.
The performance of Dhuliyas (drummers) on the occasion of marriage or other festivals is one of the liveliest folk-dramas that one might witness in Assam. There are a minimum of twenty persons in a Dhuliya group. The performance has two parts, and consists of dancing and singing to the beat of drums and the presentation of dramatic scenes of some known mythological episode.
This is another form of ‘Bhaona', may have come into being when there was a decline in the classical standards of the ‘Ankiya Bhaona'. There are several persons in the troupe and the chief is called the ‘Oja'. He conducts the entire performance with a whisk in his hand. A skilled musician called ‘bayan'; a few ‘khuliyas' who play the ‘khol' and ‘taalis' who play on cymbal and some actors are part of the Khulliya team. They perform a sort of opera based on the episodes of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.
The Putala Nach:
Puppetry is one of the most primeval forms of art in any civilization. In the Putala Nach played in Assam, the team comprises of four or five persons and the most important is the ‘Sutradhar' (holder of the thread) who remains behind the curtain and manipulates the puppets made of ‘Kuhila' (cork-wood) . His assistant, the ‘bayan' narrates the story through songs and recitation and the puppets are maneuvered to represent the same through body contortions of the ‘putolas' (puppets) manipulated by the Sutradhar.
This is a popular form of folk dance-drama specific to the Goalpara district of Assam. It is an open-air theatre with music, dance and other ingredients of folk drama. The name is believed to be derived from the name of the son of Rama – Kusha. The troupe consists of fifteen to sixteen persons. The leader of the group conducts the performance and is known as ‘mul'. The form is similar to the Oja-Pali. The use of the ‘Bena' is the specialty of the Kushan-gan and the most important person here is ‘dowari'.
This form of the dance drama is restricted to the Southern part of Goalpara only, and is also based on the Ramayana. Here the favorite theme is the battle between Rama and Ravana. The leader of the troupe is called ‘mul' who recites verses and dances with a whisk in his hand.
The Folk dances of Assam
The most popular and the biggest dance festival of Assam is Bihu. Assam takes great pride in the Bihu. Of the three types Bihu (the Bohag Bihu, the Magh Bihu and the Kati Bihu), the Bohug Bihu is celebrated to mark the Assamese New Year reflects the joys and merriment of life, celebrated specially during springtime. Groups of young boys and girls gather together in the open field, wearing the traditional dress (muga riha, mekhela and red blouse for girls and dhuti, muga shirt and gamocha for boys),they dance to the accompaniment of the ‘Dhol' (drum), the ‘Pepa' (buffalo hornpipe), the ‘Gagana' (a string reed attached to a bamboo piece at the end), the ‘takka' (a portion of bamboo split to form a clapper) and Bihu songs woven round the theme of love.Bihu dances are typified by their brisk steps, flinging and flipping of hands and swaying of the hips representing youthful passion and the reproductive urge so characteristic of spring. Full of joie-de-vivre, this festival of dances continues for about a month.
The ‘Jhumur' is another folk dance of Assam; it is a form that was nurtured in the tea-gardens of Assam. With the passage of more than a hundred years of their settlement in Assam the tea tribes have developed a synthesized this form of dance that is known as "Chah Baganar Jumur Nach". (Jhumur dance of tea garden).The dance is performed by girls and boys
together; sometimes by the girls alone, marked by a precision of foot work, while clasping each other tightly by the waist.This is a beautiful dance to watch, particularly in the environment in which it was born. Any visitor to the tea gardens would be entranced by this dance.
The Bhor Tal Nritya of Barpeta:
Developed by a well known Satriya artist, Narahari Burha Bhakat, the ‘Bhor Tal Nritya' is an extension of ‘Sankari' culture. This dance is basically a formation dance with six to ten dancers, dancing in tandem. All the dancers carry a cymbal with them and dance in many intriguing and intricate formations.
The Devadasi Nirtya:
There is no definite history or treatise on the cult of the Devadasi in Assam, or of the Devadasi dance in the Siva temples of Assam. The origin of the cult is still shrouded in mystery though it seems to have been one which had a strong association with the Tantric system so far as the basic ideas and rituals were concerned, dating back pre-Aryan days. ‘Devdasi' means the rituals of dedicating young girls to the service of the temples. Some scholars think that this cult originated during the ages when serfdom was in vogue in many parts of the world. This culture is similar to the cults of the Egyptian Isis, the Greek Aphrodite, the Roman Venus, and the Babylomian Istar. The term ‘devadasi' is found in one of the stone inscriptions of Ashoka (263-236 A.D). In all probability, this cult originated in Assam prior to the third century A.D and it was a part of the Siva temples in the ancient Kamrupa.
Records in the Yogini Tantra and Kalika Purana tell us of the propitiation of the Gods through dance and music during the period of Ratnapal. In the Medieval Assam the Devadasi cult centered round the worship of Siva. Prihareswar Siva temple at Dubi near Pathsala, Kedar and Hayagrib-Madhava temple at Hajo, the Kamakhya temple on the Nilachal hills, the Siva temple of Negheriting, the Baidyanath temple of Joysagar and the Siva temple of Singari were the main centers of the Devadasi cult and dance.
The cult of the Devadasi is somewhat obscure. Under the veneer of spiritual intimacy, the Devadasis might have been forced into prostitution for the sexual gratification of the priestly and feudal classes. In 1868, the British Government banned this cult.
The sanctity of the Devadasi institution in Assam was preserved to a great extent in comparison with the other places of India. The Devadasi dance of Hajo had some distinctions. The costumes they wore during performance were of a definite sartorial design, along with a lot of ornaments and the hairdo known as the ‘Nagheri Khopa'. This dance was probably both spiritual and erotic in content. There is now an attempt to revive this dance form which must have earlier been a part of a classical dance tradition.
The Deodhani Nritya:
The Deodhani Nritya is another form of that was popular dance of Assam. This dance is associated with the worship of the snake Goddess Manasa. A Deodhani girl, in a inspired state, goes on dancing to the accompaniment of Kham (Drum) and Ciphung (Flute) propitiating many a deity beginning with Shiva and ending with Lakshmi.
There are actually two types of Deodhani Nritya. One is a semi-classical dance and the other one is a trance form (not a dance). The Deodhani Nritya found in Mangaldoi and southwest Kamrup area, which is linked to the Sukanani Oja-Pali.
Specially the Deodhani Nritya was observed at Kamakhya Temple. ‘The Deodhani Festival' at Kamakhya Temple has started on 19-08-07.In this dance the devotees painted their bodies with red color; they also
offer goat or pigeon to Maa Kamakhya. It is believed that taking part in this festival gets superficial power from goddess Kamakhya.
Tribal Dances of Assam:
Tribal dances are the visible rhythmic formulation of the joys and beliefs of the tribal people. For them, dance is more than an expression of physical or emotional exuberance, something more than a form of mere entertainment. Dance is, in a sense, almost their religion. Their dances depict success or victory in war, fertility in women; provide protection from evil, call for the fruition of love and so on. Some of these dances are the ‘Faark Dance', the ‘Chakhela Dance', the ‘Karbi Dance' and the like.
The Bagurumba of the Bodos:
The Bodo community boasts of many intricate and complex folk dances. 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 the most colorful attire perform this dance with accompanying Bodo traditional musical instruments.
Any visitor to Assam can witness this dance in the
Bodo dominant areas of Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Nalbari, Darrang and Sonitpur districts.
Bathou of the Bodos:
Bathou dance is the dance for Lord Siva. They worship Bathou through the Kherai dance form consists of 18 stages.
The Ali Ai Ligang of the Mishings:
During the cultivation time they religiously observe this festival which is characters by the gomrag dance, which is performed to pray to the cloud deity for rain. The Pas Monan dance is performed to protect the crops from calamities.
The Mishing community of Assam has a rich traditional of folk songs, dances and festivals. They celebrate Po-Rag after harvesting crops in winter and in summer. The summer festival is known as Nara Singha Bihu. Young boys and girls dance day and night with verve and merriment to celebrate Po-Rag.
The Mishing ‘Bihu' may also be seen in northeastern part of Assam: the Sonitpur and Lakhimpur districts.
The Tiwa tribe worship goddess Lakshmi called Jangkhang. In this festival, young boys dance around the altar with bamboo sticks. These sticks are very colorfully decorated with flowers. The Bijuli Kuwari festival is celebrated with a dance performed by young boys playing dance. This dance is to worship Bamboo plant and it lasts whole night.
War-Jowa is a religious festival in which they sing and dance and prepare rice powder.
The Jangkhang Dance of the Tiwa Tribe:
The Tiwa tribe worship goddess Lakshmi called Jangkhang. In this festival, young boys dance around the altar with bamboo sticks. These sticks are very colorfully decorated with flowers. The Bijuli Kuwari festival is celebrated with a dance performed by young boys playing dance. This dance is to worship Bamboo plant and it lasts whole night.
War-Jowa is a religious festival in which they sing and dance and prepare rice powder.
The Bihu Dance of the Deuri Tribe:
The colorful festival bihu of Deuris is celebrated for seven days. The Deudhani dance is performed before the Bihu and Husari dance performed in front of the deity first and then the group goes each house in the village.
The Darlam dance of Hmar Tribe:
In the harvesting period Darlam dance is performed. Men and women in a circular pattern with traditional dress perform this festival. Another prayer dance Partumlam is observed for the growth of healthy crops. Faifitlan is a folk dance which is celebrated after the successful return of hunters. This dance is dominated by Fluit. Fahrel Tuklam (Bamboo Dance) and the Chawanlam dance are some beautiful dances of this tribe.
Srimanta Sankardeva is the father of Assamese theatre, who wrote plays and dramas five centuries ago to establish Vaishnavism in Assam. He introduced Ankia Nat, Bhoana, Cihnayatra to Assamese audience before Shakespeare even born. He wrote six plays and a drama Cihnayatra. Cihnayatra was a theatrical presentation in signs or paintings which is represented with song, music and dance. After him, his successor Madhavdeva successfully continued this journey with a contribution of five short plays called jhumura. Gopaldev was another close follower of Sankardeva who wrote two plays based on Bhagavat Puranas. Soon the plays of Sankardeva's became popular and got an entry to Royal Palaces.
In 19th century the socio-political scenario has changed so the themes of theatres also. Ram Navami was the first modern Assamese drama wrote by Gunaviram Baruah in 1857. Kaniyar Kirtan was the second serious social play wrote Hem Chandra Baruah in 1866. It was a social drama expressing the effect of opium. Some popular writer in that period was Rudraram Bardoloi, Benudhar Rajkhowa and BInapani Natyamandir was established in Nowgaon. In this period mythological plays were written in western style. Realistic social drama and comedy appeared in the later half of 19th Century. Lakshinath Bezbaruah was a noted writer, his some of comic characters were litikai, pasani, nomal, sikatpati and nikatpati was very popular. Padmanath Gohai Baruah's character teton tamuli was also popular among people of Assam.
In the beginning of 20th Century the playhouses were came to the towns and the new audiences demanded new types of plays. Jyotiprasad Agarwal was the father of modern theatre of Assam. He wrote the romantic play Sonit Kuwari, the character Usha and Anirudha are still popular in Assam. Another play Joymati by Padmanath Gohai Baruah has a historical contribution to the Assamese theatre. The plays in this period based on social problems. The trend of mythological-historical play was gradually become to realistic and social. In seventies some different type of plays performed was a huge success. Some of them are Samayar Sankat by Munin Sharma, Sri Nibaran Bhattacharya by Arun Sharma etc.. An Important aspect was the one-act play. Birinchi Kumar Baruah, Satya Prasad Baruah, Bhabebdra Nath Saikia is some of the noted personalities in this field.
After Brajanath Sharma, two brothers Achyut Lahkar and Sada Lahkar took hold of mobile theatre in Assam in 1963 by setting up the very famous Nataraj Theatre. They have promoted professionalism in the theatre of Assam. It was the untiring efforts of many of the successors that have brought mobile theatre to today's prestigious position. Ratan Lahkar, the producer of the famed Kohinoor Theatre, is one among them. He started Kohinoor Theatre in 1975. It was in Kohinoor Theatre that several world famous plays, novels, epics and films had their Assamese adaptations. Kohinoor created a sort of record, staging dramas like Mahabharat, Ramayan, Illiad-Odyssey, Cleopatra, Ben Hur, Hamlet, Othello; Titanic etc.
Assamese Film Industry:
Assam has a rich history of Cinema, started by Jyoti Prasad Aggawala in 1935.
Joymati was the first Assamese cinema made by Jyotiprasad Aggarwala, under the banner Chitrakala Movietone. He was the frontrunner or pioneer of Assamese film industry who has contributed immensely without which Assamese film industry could not establish itself in the national film society. Till date more than 300 movies are made. In 2003 highest number of Assamese movie was made (a total of 20 films). The film completed with a budget of Rupees Sixty thousand and was released on March 10th, 1935.
|Jyoti Prasad Aggarwala|
The sets were made out of bamboo mates and banana leaves.Aideu Handique played the role of Joymati.Jyoti Prasad produced his second and last film after a lapse of two years titled "Indramalati (1939)" which opened the door for indoor shouting in a Studio.
In both of the film rich Assamese culture were shown very successfullySoon after the release of the movie he died. His death resulted in temporary closedown in the Assamese film industry. Subsequently Late Rohini Kr. Baruah made a film on a relevant historical topic called "Manomati in (1941)". In 1948 Bishnu Prasad Rabha and Phani Sarma jointly directed Siraj and Asit Sen directed Biplabi (The Rivolutionary). But the most remarkable film of the fifties was Piyali Phukan which was awarded a National award and directed by Phani Sarma. Other films of Phani Sarma are Dhumuha (The Cyclone, 1957), Kesa Son (My Darling, 1959), Puwati Nishar Sapon (A dream of Dawn, 1959). The music of this film was very famously composed by Dr Bhupen Hazarika.
In 1955, a new personality arose to change the scenario of Assamese cinema-Nip Barua made his directorial debut with Smritir Parash (Touch of remembrance, 1956). His subsequent films were Mak Aru Moram (Mother and Love, 1957) and Ranga Police (The Police force, 1958), whose story line based on the family of a police constable bagged many state awards and the silver medal at the national level. The Berlin Film Festival also recognized Assamese film Puberon by Prabhat Mukherjee in the year 1959. The next memorable production was Lachit Borphukan by Sarbeswar Chakraborty.
|Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, a well known music composer and singer, made his unforgettable musical lore Shakuntala (1961) which proved equally successful with critics and the press. It also won President's Silver medal. Some of his movies are Era Bator Sur (The melody of the abandoned Path, 1956), Pratidhani (The Echo, 1965), Loti-Ghoti (Mix-up, 1966), and Bhagya (Luck, 1968). By the middle of the sixties, production of films became regular. Simple social based themes were preferred. It should also be mentioned here that between 1935 and to 1970 a total of 62 films were produced. In 1976 ‘Ganga Silanir Pakhi' (Wings of the River Term) made by Padum Barua was a huge success; the story was of village young woman pitted against two men. Other film maker's include Pravin Sharma, Amulya Manna, Saila Barua, Abdul Mazid, Amar Pathak, Indukalpa Hazarika, Dwibon Barua, Gauri Barman , Atul Bardoloi, Sujit Singh, Nalin Duara and Prafulla Barua.|
During the period of 1970-82 a total of 57 Assamese films were made. Kamal Choudhury's Bhaity (1972) being first color film of Assam.The outstanding directors of contemporary Assamese Cinema are Jahnu Baruah, Sanjeev Hazarika (Haladhar, Meemanxa); Bhabendaranath Saikia, Dr. Santwana Bordoloi and Bidyut Chakraborty. Their Films have won many National & International Awards. Among female directors Manju Bora, Suman Haripriya ( Kadam Tole Krishna Nache) begged several national and International Award .
Movies of Bhabendra Nath Saikia are Sandhyarag (Cry of Twilight, 1977), Agnisnan (The Ordeal, 1986, which is his most famous movie, story is of a middle aged woman who is in her late thirties took revenge of her husband's second marriage by conceiving a child outside her wedlock.), Anirban ( Vigil, 1981), Kolahal (The Turmoil, 1988), Sarathi (The Shelter,1991), Itihas (The Exploration, 1995), and Kalsandhya (The Twilight of Death, 1997, this film was made in Hindi)'. From the eighties Assamese movies began to recognized internationally. One of the most famous Directors during this period is Jahnu Barua. His movie Haladhiya Saraye Bowdhan Khai (The Catastrope, 1988) received Best Actor Prize in the Locarno Film Festival. Other movies of Barua are Aparupa (1982), Papori (1986), Banani (The Forest, 1990), Sugarloaf Bahu Dur (it's long way to the sea, 1994, received the World peace award in Chicago Film Festival in 1995 and the Best Director in National Film Award. This film also received best Audience Award Fribourg International Festival), Kukhal (1998), Pakhi (1999), Kanikar Ramdhenu (Ride on Rainbow, 2002), and Tara (The Butterfly, 2003). His film Maine Gandhiko Nahi Mara was made in 2005. From the nineties new directors appeared in the block. Among the pioneers He manta Dash produced him film ‘Nathalie Nadir' (Still the River, 1990), Santee Mazurka, his films are ‘Hamada' (The Yeoman,1991), Bidet Chakravorty with his film ‘Rang-Birang' (Vacation of Sanyasi, 1997). The story line of this movie was based on the family of a young Hindu monk. In 1997 Santana Barua made ‘Adajya' (The Plight). This film was awarded as ‘outstanding' film in Istanbul Film Festival in 1998 and screened in many national and international film festivals. Another woman director is Manju Barua whose film ‘Baibhav' (A scam in Verse, 2000) awarded best film in the Dacca Film Festival.
Munin Barua, Biju Phookan, Padma Koiri, Dinesh Gogoi, Munna Ahmed, Mridul Gupta Abdul Mazid are name of some noted personalities from Assamese Movie world.There are some movies made in Bodo , Karbi and Missing language also. Bodo films started their journey from eighties. The first Bodo movie was Aloyaran meaning the Sunrise made in 1986 by Jwangdao Bodosa. Two other film made by him are Khwmsini Lam in 1991 (Road to Darkness) and Hagramayou Zinahar in 1995 (Rape of Virgin). There are two more Bodo film made by Amar Hazarika and Knanindra Bodosa. Name of the films are Ziuni Simang means Dream of Life (1987) and Songali (Spy, 2002). There are four Karbi movie named Wosobipo by Goutom Bora in 1989, Zir Chong by Prafulla Saikia in 1987, Rit Amtong by Prafulla Saikia in 1988 and Rangbin by Gautom Chatterji in 2003. The only Dimasa movie is the untold story of Blue Hills. Dilip Doley and Narayan Seal made Missing Movie Panei-Janki.Till date both art and commercial Assamese movies are being made and released in the state.
Name of the Directors with their first film:
|Director||Name of the Film||Year of Release|
|Jyoti Prasad Agarwala||Joymati||1935|
|Rohini Kr. Barua||Manomati||1941|
|Parbati Prasad Baruah||Rupahi||1947|
|Bishnu Prasad Rabha & Phani Sarma||Siraj||1948|
|Sunil Ganguli||Sati Beula||1954|
|Phani Sarma||Piyali Phukan||1955|
|Lakshyadhar Choudhury||Nimila Anka||1955|
|Nip Barua||Smritir Prash||1956|
|Bhupen Hazarika||Era Batar Sun||1956|
|Prabin Phukan & Lakhshyadhar Choudhury||Lachit Barphukan||1961|
|Brajen Baruah||Etu Situ Bahutu||1963|
|Anil Choudhury||Matir Swarga||1963|
|Maniram Dewan|| |
|Chaturanga (Phani Talukdar, Atul Bordoloi, Gauri Barman, Munin Bayan)||Aparajeo||1970|
| Samarendera Narayan Dev |
Dev Kumar Basu
| Aranya |
| 1971 |
|Dwiban Baruah||Jog Biyug||1971|
|Indukalpa Hazarika||Manab Aru Danab|| |
|Jiten Sarma||Opar Mahala||1972|
|Gouri Barman||Hridayar Proyujan||1972|
|Achyut Lahkar||Black Money||1972|
|Atul Bordoloi||Banaria Phool||1973|
|A.K. Films Unit||Ganesh||1973|
|Padum Barua||Ganga Chilanir Pakhi||1976|
|Prabir Mitra||Natun Asha||1977|
|(Dr.) Bhabendra Nath Saikia||Sandhvaraag||1977|
|Dijendra Narayan Dev||Marami||1978|
|Shiba Prasad Thakur||Faguni||1978|
|Dev Kr. Barua||Nishar Chakulu||1979|
|Jones Mahalia||Duranit Rong||1979|
|Upen Kakati||Bishesh Erati||1979|
|Prafulla Kr. Baruah||Rajanigandha||1981|
|Charu Kamal Hazarika||Alokar Ahbanbsp;||1983|
|Naresh Kumar||Jeevan Suravi||1984|
|Sambhu Gupta & Dara Ahmed||Devi||1984|
|Hiren Choudhury & Suprabha Devi||Sarabjan||1985|
|Jwngdau Bodosa||Alayaran – in Bodo||1986|
|Amar Hazarika||Jeuni Simang in Bodo||1987|
|Dhiru Bhuyan||Pratham Ragini||1987|
|Mridul Gupta||Sutrapat|| |
|Munin Barua & Nipan Goswami||Pratima||1987|
|Mukul Dutta||O Chenai||1987|
|Munin Barua||Pita Putra||1988|
|Biju Phukan||Bhai Bhaisp||1989|
|Timathi Das Hanse||Ranga Madar||1990|
|Hemanta Das||Tathapeo Nadi||1990|
|Gautam Bora||Woshobipo in Karbi||1990|
|Brajen Bora||Ronga Nadi||1990|
|Jadab Ch. Das||Prem Janame Janame||1991|
|Gunasindhu Hazarika||Abuj Bedana||1993|
|Bhaskar Bora||Ektrish June||1994|
|Ganesh Das||Nishar Aranya||1995|
|Pradip Gogoi||I Killed him, Sir||1995|
|(Dr.) Santana Bordoloi||Adajya||1996|
|Bidyut Chakravorty||Raag Biraag||1996|
|Dipak Bhuyan||Deutar Biya||1997|
|Monoj Sen||Abhisapta Prem||1997|
|Ashok Kr. Baishya||Yaubane Aamoni Kare||1998|
|Dr. Paramananda Rajbanshi||Anol||1999|
|Zubin Garg||Tumi Mor Mathu Mor||2000|
|Munna Ahmed||Jon Jwale Kapalat||2000|
| Jayanta Das |
| Bhumiputra |
| 2000 |
|Baharul Islam||Achene Kunuba Hiyat||2000|
|Toufiq Rahman||Eei Maram Tomar Babe||2001|
|Suman Haripriya||Kaina Mor Dhunia||2001|
|Rajib Bhattacharjya||Seuji Dharani Dhunia||2001|
|Gopal Barthakur||Sesh Upahar||2001|
|Sambhu Gupta||Prem Aru Prem||2002|
|Jivraj Barman||Jonaki Mon||2002|
|Dilip Doley & Narayan Seal||Panoi Jonki – in Mising||2002|
|Bipul Kr. Barua||Tumie Mor Kalpana||2002|
|Alok Nath||Eman Moram Kiya Lage||2002|
|Anjan Kalita||Priya O Priya||2002|
|Achyut Kr. Bhagawati & Sushanta Majindar Barua||Mitha Mitha Laganat||2002|
|Isha Khan||Moromi Hobane Logori||2002|
|Nayanmoni Barua||Eti Koli Duti Paa t||2003|
|Gautam Chatterjee||Rangbin – in Karbi||2003|
|Mahibul Hoque||Juman Suman||2003|
|Chakradhar Deka||Saru Buari||2003|
|Jayanta Nath||Hriday Kapua Gaan||2004|
|Rajesh Bhuyan & Pabitra Margherita||Maya||2004|
|Sanjeeb Sabhapadit||Jone Pura Sone||2004|
|Sibanan Barua||Hiyar DapunatTomarei Sabi||2005|
|Rajani Barman||Sunar Kharu Nalage Mok||2005|
|Dipa Bhattacharjya||Sixth Day of Creation||2005|
|Arup Manna||Jeevan Trishna||2005|
|Ramesh Modi||Deuta Diya Bidai||2006|
|Utpal Das||Tumar Babe (first Tele Cine film)||2007|
|Asif Iqbal Hussain||Ajan Faquir Saheb||2008|
|M. Maniram||Mon Jai||2008|
|Prodyut Kr. Deka||Dhunia Tirutabur||2009|
|Hemanta Kalita||Mor Mone Tora||2009|
|Hiren Bora||Basundhara (the earth)||2009|
|The tradition of painting in Assam dates back several centuries as is evidenced by various records including the references to painted objects and painting paraphernalia among the gifts of Bhaskaravarman and Harshavardhana. Medieval Assamese literature abounds in references to painters and their works. A very large number of manuscripts; some of them two hundred years old, with beautiful paintings illustrating the text, have been discovered. Some of the most important of these illustrated manuscripts like the Chitra-|
|Painting of Assam|
bhagabata, the Hastvidyanava, the Gita-Govinda and the Ananda-lahiri have been published in book form also. Most of these manuscripts representing the distinctive Assamese style of miniature painting are done on aloe bark (‘sachipat') folios;some are made of indigenously pressed cotton paper (‘tulapat') or even muga silk folios. The designs on the motifs and the designs contained in the Chitra-Bhagabat have become a traditional style for Assamese painters of the later period, and are still used by contemporary artists. In the modern times, among the better known painters are Jugal Das, Benu Mishra, Pranab Barua, Nani Bar Pujari etc.
Assam's rich architectural heritage speaks of a dynamic sense of aesthetics. The temples of the early period were dedicated to Shiva, Surya, and Vishnu; however, most of these are now in ruins. Among the few archaeological remains, a stone temple at ‘Dah Parbatia' near Tezpur is a unique example of the artistry of ancient Assam. There seems to have been some sort of traffic between Assam and the northern parts of India: the door frame of the ‘Dah Parbatia' temple shows the influence of Gupta age. The Ahoms brought with them their own sense of structure, and the architecture in their period is different. Bricks were introduced during the ‘Tung Khungia' period of Ahom reign, where earlier, the people used bamboo, wood and canes for construction. The earliest brick-built structure is the Umananda Temple, build by the Ahom King Gadadhar Singha. Rudra Singha constructed the ‘Joy-Dol'; Siva Singha followed this up with the ‘Siva-Dol'. In case of the big temples the main ‘shikhara' was surrounded by its replicas. The top of the temples were covered with gold-plaited ‘kalasas'. Rudra Singha is said to have brought artisans from Koch Bihar to build the ‘Rang-ghar' and ‘Tolatol-ghar – two of the most famous of all historical monuments in Assam. Also very well-known is the ‘Kareng-ghar' that was constructed by Pramatta Singha.The most outstanding example of the ancient Assamese sculpture is the door-frame of the Dah-Parbatia Temple that bears two exquisite images of Ganga and Yamuna. Eminent scholars and art historians hail this piece as one of the finest specimens of Gupta sculpture. Another specimen of this style is found in the ‘dvarapalas' on a huge boulder at Bargoan. The majority of these sculptures represent gods, goddesses and semi-divine figures. The representation of the ‘yaksa' and the ‘yakisini' were usually made to serve as special attendants to the deities sculptured on the wall of temples. The ceiling slab from the Siva Temple of Dah-Parbatia, bears an embossed lotus. Some of the figures found in Assam are similar to the Gupta and Pala sculptures. By far the most interesting of the human figures are the scenes with ‘mithuna' couples. They may be found in the Shaiva and Sakta shrines. They seem to be the result of the decidedly Tantric leanings of the king. Another set of sculptures that form the integral part of temple decoration is that of dancing figures. Dancing postures have been used to express the act of worship, thanksgiving, praise, supplications and humiliation. The temple's walls were generally decorated with sculptures depicting various scenes from the Epics. Animal carvings are also present on the walls and ceilings of temples. Among the contemporary sculptors of modern Assam are Pranabendu Bikash Dhar and Biren Singh.
Music and Musical instruments:
A basic characteristic of the ethnic music of Assam is its descending scale which distinguishes it from the raga-based or folk music from the rest of India. This style is shared by ethnic music of the hill people surrounding the state of Assam, and by the music of Thailand, Myanmar and China. Furthermore, the tunes are structured in a pyramid, in contrast to the music of rest of India. Assam is a state with valleys and hills, and the home of many ethnic tribes. Just as the geography and varied people co-exist, the pulsating Bihu songs co-exist with languorous music of other forms. We can categorize the music of Assam as Folk music and Bhakti Music. Further folk music can be divided as regional folk music which includes Kamrupiya Lokageet, Goalpariya Lokageet, Ojapali, Tokari Geet, Deh Bisaror Geet, and Baramahi Geet, Ethnic folk music which includes Jhumur and Bharigaan. In Bhakti music there are Bargeet, Zikir and Zari, Ainaam, and Dihanaam. Other than that Bihu songs and Modern songs are very popular in Assam.
Music and musical instruments in Assam there is indeed, God's plenty. There are numerous kinds of musical instruments that are indigenous to the land. ‘Gana badya' means ‘tal'. Different types of tals are ‘Bhor tal', ‘khanjarika', ‘mandira' or ‘manjeera', ‘khutialal', ‘karatal', ‘ramtal', ‘taka' etc. Different types of bells are ‘ghanta', ‘kanh' (barkanh, sarukanh). Small ghanta-like instruments are used by dancers. They are ‘kikini', ‘junuka', and ‘nupur'. There is another instrument called ‘sushir jantra': its differant froms are ‘singha', ‘pempa', ‘conch', ‘banshi', ‘benu or muruli', ‘kali', veru', ‘sutuli' and ‘gagona'. There are also different forms of ‘ananda badya', like ‘rana', ‘dama', ‘nagara', ‘danka', ‘dimdim', ‘dunduvi', ‘joydhaka-dhak', ‘beer-dhak', ‘khola', ‘mridaga', ‘doba'. The varieties of dhol are ‘bordhol', ‘pati dhol', ‘dhepa dhol', joy dhol', ‘madala', ‘dholak', ‘khumuchi'.The ‘dambaru' and the tabla are popular instruments. These musical instruments are used in religious songs, Bihu dances and in singing Bargeet – the devotional songs that are based on different ragas. Many of the above instruments are used even today, and have a long history. The flute is the instrument which enjoys great popularity even today and Dipak Sarma is its most famous Assamese exponent, recognized internationally. In the modern period, the most popular forms of music are ‘Jyoti Sangeet', ‘Rabha Sangeet' and ‘Parbati Pasad Baruar Geet'. Bhupen Hazarika, Khagen Mahanta, Dipali Borthakur, Archana Mahanta, the Late Jayanta Hazarika, Zubin Garg, and Torali Shamra are some well-known names of contemporary singers and musicians of Assam.
The people of Assam have traditionally been craftsmen since time immemorial. Although Assam is known mostly for its exquisite silks and bamboo & cane products, several other crafts are also intensively practiced and developed here.
By the 13th century, Assam's tradition of stone carving seems to have started declining. Wood carving developed in 16th century and continued to flourish up to 18th century, particularly in precincts of the ‘Satras'. Assam has always remained one of the most afforested states of the country, and the variety of wood and timber available here have formed a part of the people's culture and economy. The indigenous people of Assam are well versed with timber, and woodcraft naturally flourished here.
The decorative panels in the 600-years old royal Ahom palaces and the Vaishnavite monasteries were intricately carved on wood. The people who excelled in wood carving came to be known as the ‘Khanikar', a surname proudly passed down from generation to generation. The Royal palaces are known to have had large wooden constructions. The old structures of the traditional Vaishnava monasteries of Assam – the Satras – represent another style of distinctive architecture based on bamboo and wood which suggests simplicity and sobriety. These are restrained yet imposing structures. Various articles in the Satra and the ‘Naam-ghar' (place of worship) are stiff cut on wood, including the ‘guru asana' (pedestal of the lords). In the present day, however, commercial wood replicas of the one-horned rhino and of the world famous Kamakhya temple are the main products of modern artisans working on wood.Cane and bamboo have remained inseparable objects of daily life in Assam. They are used to construct houses, and many instruments of daily use are made of the ubiquitous bamboo. Fishing tools like ‘jakoi' and ‘khaoli'; household articles like the ‘kharahi' (basket), ‘chalani' (strainer), and ‘dola' (sieve) are made out of bamboo and cane. Most weaving accessories and musical instruments of the region are also made out of bamboo.
The ‘Jaapi', or the traditional Assamese sunshade continues to be the most prestigious bamboo item of the state, and it has been in use since the days when the great Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang came to Assam.
Some other important articles produced from bamboo, wood and cane are transport vehicles like boat and the cart. Boxes like ‘pera' (box of wood, bamboo, or cane), ‘petari' (version of box made out of bamboo and cane), ‘jopa' (box with a cover), ‘khapori' (used to put or preserve tarowal or hangdung), ‘duli' (used to preserve rice), and ‘dona' (used to measure rice or other agricultural products etc.) are made and used even in the contemporary times. Traditional weapons like the bow and arrow, spears of different types, and the ‘dhaal' (shield) were made out of bamboo cane or wood in Assam.
Cane and bamboo furniture has been immensely popular both in the domestic as well as the export market, while the ‘paati', the traditional mat has found its way into the world of interior decoration. The hats made by the tribal people are aesthetically appealing and are used daily.
The ‘Murha' (stool), ‘palanka' (bed), ‘dhara' are some of the other products fashioned out of bamboo and cane that are used in every household.
Cane and Bamboo Product
|That the art of producing metal sculptures had flourished in Assam is borne out of the fact that a large number of metal images and other objects made of bronze, brass, copper, bell-metal, and even gold and silver have been found in different parts of the state. Various icons and images of gods and goddesses, ceremonial objects including large ‘asanas' (votive pedestial) and chariots, which were made between the 9th and 18th centuries have also been found. The styles of the objects vary from the highly sophisticated to the roughly hewn but always stamped with a distinctively local touch. Bell-metal and brass have been the most commonly used metals of the Assamese artisan.|
Traditional utensils and fancy articles designed by these artisans are found in every Assamese household. The ‘Xorai' and the ‘Bota' have in use for centuries; these are widely used even today to offer betel-nut and paan to welcome guests, and in various auspicious and social ceremonies.This craft deserves a special mention as the entire population of two townships near Guwahati – Hajo and Sarthebari – is engaged in producing traditional bell-metal and brass articles.They have used their innovative skills to design modern day articles to compete with the changing times. In the present times they seem to be borrowing technology from outside India. Gold, silver and copper too form a part of traditional metal craft in Assam: the State Museum in Guwahati has a rich collection of items made of these metals. Gold, however, is now used only for making ornaments.
|If there is any field in the arts and crafts in which the northeastern region completely surpasses others – be it in color schemes, or decorative designs, or workmanship – it is that of textiles. Spinning, weaving and the execution of designs form the theme of a considerable body of oral folklore in every ethnic community living in the state. Weaving of silk is considered to be a most desirable accomplishment for a woman.|
Assam's weaving heritage encompasses cottons, indigenous silks and wool – all fabrics of the finest quality.Assam is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent and prestigious being ‘muga', the golden silk that is exclusive to this state. There is also the ‘paat', and the ‘eri'. Of a naturally rich golden colour, the Muga is the finest (and the strongest) of India's wild silks, and is produced only in Assam.It is known to provide more than 80% protection from UV rays of the sun. The Eri or Endi is a warm variety of silk out of which various types of shawls and other warm clothing materials are produced and are highly in demand. Their craft often eulogized in poetry, it goes without saying that the women weavers of Assam are consummate artists. These skills were the primary qualification for any young girl to ensure her eligibility for marriage in earlier times.
This perhaps explains why Assam has the largest concentration of handlooms and weavers in India. The traditional handloom silks still hold their own in world markets where they score over factory-made silks in the richness of their textures and designs, in their individuality, character and classic beauty. No two hand woven silks are exactly alike. The personality of the weaver, her hereditary skill, her innate sense of colors and balance all help to create a unique product.
Currently, India exports a wide variety of silks to Western Europe and the United States, especially as exclusive furnishing fabrics. Boutiques and fashion houses, designers and interior decorators have the advantage of getting custom-woven fabrics in the designs, weaves and colors of their choice. What ensures an exclusive product not easily repeatable by competitors is the handloom fabric: every product is unique to itself.
The ‘Gamocha' is a cotton hand-woven textile item traditionally done in white with red as side and cross borders. Generally one end is ornamented with a cross border of floral design and the other end is finished with a plain border of the same colour. Literally, the Gamocha denotes a kind of towel – to wipe the body but culturally, this item has acquired multiple and resonant significance. Its services now extend far beyond the body into the sphere of mind and soul. The Gamocha has become an indispensable part of Assamese life and culture with its distinctive and symbolic significance. It stands as a symbol of friendship, love, regards, warmth, hospitality, respect – the humble yet prestigious Gamocha is presented by the Assamese people to their loved ones as well as to those that they wish to honor.
The tribal people of the region have a wide variety of colorful costumes, some of which have earned international repute through the export market. Weaving in Assam is so replete with artistic sensibility and so intimately linked to folk life that Gandhiji, during his famous tour to promote khadi and swadeshi, was moved to remark: "Assamese women weave fairy tales in their clothes"!
| The toys of Assam may be broadly classified under four heads: (i) clay toys, (ii) pith toys, (iii) wooden and bamboo toys, and (iv) cloth and cloth-mud toys. The Kumar and Hira community were earlier engaged in the making of the clay toys. Generally, human figures like dolls, brides and grooms were made. A wide range of clay toy animals have also been found. Also dominant are representations of religious and mythological figures. |
Assam can take pride especially in the toys made of sola pith. The pith workers, known as ‘Malis', are highly skilled and sensitive artists who make delightful pith
toys representing human, animal, and bird figures, artificial flowers, as also images of a large number of deities of the local pantheon. All these items are as attractive for their structural ingenuity as for their chromatic brilliance. The pith workers are also good painters.They paint ritualistic pictures on large pith-made votive structures called ‘majus' and also on smaller pieces called ‘pats' which are most interesting for their highly impressive conventions of line, form and color. Pith toys are made chiefly in the Goalpara region.
Wood and bamboo have been in use for making toys for several centuries in the region due to easy availability of raw materials. Toys made of clothand those made with a mixture of cloth and muds have also enriched the rich Assamese toy-making tradition. While the art of making cloth toys has been traditionally handed down from mother to daughter in every household, the cloth-and-mud toys are generally used for puppet theatres. Among the household toys, the bride and the groom are the most common characters, while the other varieties have animals and mythological characters as the plays demand.
Pottery is as old as human civilization itself. In Assam too, pottery can be traced back to many centuries. The Kumars and Hiras are the two traditional potter communities of Assam; while the Kumars use the wheel to produce their pots, the Hiras are probably the only potters in the world who do not use the wheel at all. Again, among the Hiras, only the womenfolk are engaged in pottery work, while their men help them in procuring the raw materials and selling the wares.
The most commonly-used pottery products include earthen pots and pitchers, plates, incense-stick holders, earthen lamps etc, while modern-day decorative items have also found place in the newer designs.
The Dah-Parbatia site has yielded the earliest specimens of terracotta sculptures depicting beautiful human figures. Pre-Ahom terracotta sculptures represent various figures include gods like Ganesha, Manasa, Karttikeya and the like; most of these have been found in the Goalpara region. Terracotta plaques also adorn the walls of several medieval temples of Sibsagar. An unusual example of terracotta art is the beautiful female figure fancifully named the ‘Ambari Venus' for being found at the excavation site at Ambari in Guwahati.
With tribal art and folk elements forming the very base of Assamese culture, mask-making is accorded an important place in the cultural activities of the people. Masks have been widely used in folk theatres and ‘bhaonas' with the materials ranging from terracotta and pith to metal, bamboo and wood. Similarly, among the tribals too, the use of masks is varied and widespread, especially in their colorful dances which revolve chiefly around their typical tribal myth and folklore. Such traditional masks have of late found their way to the modern-day drawing rooms as decorative items and wall-hangings, thus providing self-employment opportunities to those who have been traditionally making them.
Jewellery and Ornaments:
|Jewellery making occupies a very important cultural space in the Assamese society, and speaks volumes on the advanced state of civilized society in ancient times. The ornaments were differently designed for men and women. The Kalika Purana refers to forty different kinds of ornaments, made of both gold and silver. Gold has always constituted the most-used metal for jewellery in Assam, especially since gold was locally available here. The traditional Assamese form of jewellery is still handcrafted in the customary way in Upper Assam; and even in modern times, people flock to Jorhat to purchase these exquisite pieces.|
|Traditional Jewellery of Assam|
Assamese jewellery includes various neckpieces and bracelets, with appropriate nomenclature – ‘Doog-Doogi', ‘Loka-Paro', ‘Bana', ‘Gaam-Kharu', ‘Gal-Pata', ‘Jon-Biri', ‘Dhol-Biri' and ‘Keru' – all of which have encouraged the modern jewellers to produce similar designs mechanically. Anklets are worn by Assamese women even now. There are some specific ornaments that are worn on the wedding day only.The concept of decorating the arrangements of hair with headpieces was present. The simplest and the most common coiffure embellishments may be seen in sculptures. This method is slightly different from the present day trends and fashions.
Traditionally the womenfolk of Assam are great lovers of ornaments. The materials used in making jewelry are gold, silver, various stones, and brass bell-metal. Diamonds and pearls are also in great demand. Some ornaments used by Assamese women are the following:
(i) Articles for decorating the neck are ‘jonbholbiri', ‘shilikha', ‘parachakuwa biri', ‘lata bakhoruabiri, ‘madoli', ‘gejera', ‘bena', ‘dugdugi', ‘saisari', ‘galpata', ‘chandrahar',
(ii) Ornaments of ear are: ‘lokapara', ‘thuria', ‘jongphai thuria', ‘longkeru', ‘loykan', and various flower shaped small earrings called ‘kanphul'.
(iii) Ornaments of the finger are: simple rings of gold, silver, copper, ivory etc, stone fixed ‘bakhorua ring', ‘chiripote','shenepata', ‘jethinejiya', and ‘padumkalia' and others. The name signifies the shape of the ring.
Kangan or Kharu:
The traditional kangan has different names in Assam. Among these are: the ‘simple gamhkaru', the ‘decorated gamkharu', the ‘sancharua kharu', the ‘magarmuri kharu', the ‘round bala', and the ‘gota kharu'.
The ancient inscriptions and other historical sources indicate that the ancient society of Assam followed the ‘Varnasrama' system of social division – a system that in a sense still prevails in contemporary times. The Kings of Kamrupa seem to have paid special attention to the preservation of the traditional divisions of society – namely – the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Sudras. However, despite the prevalence of the caste system, ‘casteism' was never known to be a rigid structure in Assam like in other parts of India. We find references to ‘sub-castes' in many of the stone inscriptions. It is often suggested that in ancient Assam, many of the tribal people seem to have inclined towards Hinduism – hence the multiplicities of sub-castes. Although the inscriptions mention the four stages of life, its observance in this region is doubtful.
After the fall of Guptas in northern India, a large number of Brahmins migrated to Kamrupa, where the rulers of the time entertained and paid homage to numerous learned scholars and religious teachers. They were given high positions in the societal hierarchy, and education was placed under their control. These Brahmins were not known to be very orthodox, even partaking of meat and fish. The Brahmins organized themselves socially by ‘gotras' and ‘veda-sakhas'; the rules regarding inheritance, marriage, worship, sacrifices were governed by their specific ‘gotras'. These Brahmins of Kamrupa are known to have led a religious and righteous life. They ritually performed their ‘six fold duties' (amongst these were included the strictly performed ritual of the ‘six kinds of baths' everyday). They had to study Vedas, as well as the various sciences and arts. The Brahmins had administrative duties too; the positions of ministers, administrators and the court poets were mainly allocated to them. Not much information about the other castes is available in this region. Among the chief of the non-Brahmins were the Kayastha and Karana groups, and most functioned as state officials. Both these groups seem to have merged after a time. The existence of Kayastha caste is recorded from the 9th century A.D - some historians opine that they are the descendents of the ‘Nagara' Brahmanas. Other castes in existence were the Lekhakas, the Vaidyas, and the Bhisakas. Along with Kayasthas, the Kalitas were one of the pre-dominant castes in the region, and the greatest in number. The author of Fathiya-i-Ibriyah, who accompanied Mir Jumla throughout his expedition to Assam in 1662 A.D., states that the inhabitants of this province belonged to two nations, the Ahoms and the Kalitas. In other words, it would be safe to assume that all the Hinduised peoples of Assam, with the exception of the Brahmins, were Kalitas. Next in number to the Kalitas were the Koches, who even to-day form a large chunk of the Assamese population. The professional astrologers of the land were known as ‘Ganakas'. The references to the ‘Kaivartas' in several inscriptions lead us to believe that they were once prominent in the population of Kamrupa. The Kumbhakara (or the potters), the Tantuvaya (or the weavers), the Nauki (the boatmen) were some of the other ‘professional' castes of the province. The Ahoms are known to be extremely liberal in their social attitudes. The seven principal clans of the Ahoms were known as the ‘Satgharias'. The principal three clans comprised of members of the royalty. Apart from the Ahoms and the other tribes, there is seen to be a population group that consisted of people who had migrated from the west and had settled down in Assam permanently. Although the caste system remained, it is to be noted that these were formed on the basis of profession.
One may discern a prominent distinction between the nobles and the common people within the Ahom society. The nobles enjoyed certain privileges that were not available to the ordinary people. They wore shoes, rode on horses and traveled in palanquins. Interestingly, certain forms of slavery were prevalent in Ahom period. The slaves were for the property of their masters, and did not provide any service to the state. The son of a slave in due time became a slave. As we move to the modern period, we find the gradual erosion in the condition of the peasant class. The establishment of tea-gardens during the colonial period also opened up new areas of their exploitation. The British cultivation of opium led to even greater miseries for these poorest members within the social structure. Many rebellions are known to have occurred during this period, but all were contained ruthlessly by the British.
After independence, the era of industrialization and modernization was ushered in; this has led to the overall growth of the Assamese society. Education has enabled the Assamese masses to accept and adapt to the challenges of contemporary times – there is now an inclination towards establishing industries in order to harness and utilize the abundant natural resources available in Assam. The contemporary Assamese society is very much a part of the larger Indian milieu – forward-looking and modern – it has come a long way to claim its space in the global world order.
The smallest unit of the society in earlier times was probably the joint family. The household would consist of the patriarch, his wife, his unmarried daughters, and his sons with their wives and offspring. Marriage was an important social institution; it is interesting that there actually exists a list of eight existing modes of marriage: Raksasa, Paisaca, Gandharva, Asura, Brahma, Daiva, Arsa, and Prajapatya.
♦ The Raksasa Vivaha where the bride was carried off by force;
♦ The Paisaca Vivaha which was a secret elopement;
♦ The Gandharva Vivaha, which was a secret informal union by copulation;
♦ The Asura Vivaha, wherein the bride was acquired by purchase;
♦ The Brahma Vivaha, where the bride was freely given to a worthy bridegroom with due ceremony;
♦ The Daiva Vivaha, where the bride married a priest.
♦ The Arsa Vivaha, where the bride's father received a pair of Oxen;
♦ The Prajapatya Vivaha, in which mode the proposal came from the side of the bridegroom.
|From this given list of marriages, the first three modes were available to the Kshatriyas, while the fourth was allowed to the Vaishyas and Sudras, while the remaining four was particularly accessible only to the Brahmanas. All marriage rituals were performed according to Vedic rites and were arranged only after due perusal of the horoscopes of the conjugal pair. In some parts of the region a bride-price (ga-dhan) was also paid.The nuptial rites continued for five days. The ceremonies began with the ‘Joran-diya' or ‘tekeli-diya',|
or ‘telor-bhar', where the groom's party arrived at the bride's house with clothes, ornaments, food-stuff, and a sacred jar of water.The bride would be presented with the bridal dress and ornaments. During the next three days, the bride and the bridegroom would undergo ceremonial baths known as ‘novani'; the water for which would be carried by women in a procession from the nearby river or tank. The night before the wedding, or the ‘adhivasa', was marked by a ceremony known as ‘gathiyana-khunda' – or local rituals. The ‘daiyana' ceremony was performed on the dawn of the marriage day. The usual practice was that the bridegroom would come to the bride's house on the day of the marriage in an auspicious hour in the evening. After the marriage ceremony was solemnized, the women folk would perform rituals known as ‘suwag-tola'. On the evening of the third day after marriage, the married couple together made an offering to two demons: this was the ‘khoba-khubuni'. The marriage was consummated after this ceremony.
The Ahom system of marriage was different from the previous period, although it assimilated many of the earlier features such as the ‘Joron', the ‘Daiyan' and the ‘Gathiyan' ceremonies. No marriage was allowed within the same clan. The system of ‘Saklong' denotes the accepted norm of marriage in the Ahom society. In this system the groom's family, along with the ‘Sodhanibhar' went to the girl's house and after discussions, a mutually agreeable date was fixed when the bride's family would visit the former. Thereafter, the date of the wedding was fixed.
On the wedding day, the groom would sit in the courtyard; the bride would be brought in; she walked seven times round the groom and then sat down by his side. After this both moved to a room with one end of a cloth fastened to the groom's waist and the other end tied round the bride's neck. They walked to a corner where nine vessels filled with water were placed on plantain leaves. The Siring Phukan (the master of the ceremony) read from the ‘Saklong Puthi'; three cups containing, milk, honey and fermented rice were brought in, which the bride and the groom had to smell. Then came the ritual of exchanging knives; after this some uncooked rice in a basket was brought in into which two rings were hidden by the bride and the groom. Each must now discover the other's ring and wear it on the finger. Finally, the bridal couple would be escorted outside to pay their respects – ‘Sewa' to the bride's parents and the assembled party: the marriage ceremony was now complete.
Two days prior to the wedding, the priest would go to the river and offer puja to the God ‘Khoakham'. The ‘Deoban' ceremony was performed the day before the wedding to pay respects to the various Ahom Gods. The priest imparted advice to the newly wed couple from the Ahom holy book on the rights and duties of married life. The past was to be revisited – the history of seven generations of both the families recounted.
In an Assamese marriage, the ‘homa' or ‘saptapadi' ceremony is observed before the sacred fire on the marriage day. The rest of the ceremony is almost the same as the Saklong marriage.
The inscriptions found in various historical sites suggest that the women of this period were expected to be pious and cultured. Some copper plates indicate clearly that the Queen also had some responsibility in the state. Queen Jivada was worshipped by many, and was considered to be the source of great spiritual force. Nayana, wife of Gopala was another famed queen. Harsapala's wife and a Brahmin lady Pauka are often cited as exemplary and ideal figures for their piety and charity. Typical to any patriarchal social structure, motherhood was an important part of married life for a woman; widowhood considered to be the greatest calamity that could strike them. However, the Sati system is notably absent here. However, the Yogini Tantra records that sometimes, voluntary self immolation on the funeral pyre of husband by the widow was not unheard of. But this practice was strictly prohibited to women who had several children. The ‘Purdah' was totally unheard of. Women openly bathed in the rivers. The Bargoan grant mentions the ‘Vesya' and ‘Varastri' (courtesans) who generally resided in the best streets of the city. The customs of appointing women in connection with the temple services as dancers and courtesans was common in Kamrupa. These women dedicated to their temples and were known as the ‘Natis'. They were physically beautiful and seem to have lived a life of cultural ease and pleasure. In a later epoch, the Ahom king Siva Singha married a nati – Phuleswari, who was attached to a Siva temple. Many of the Brahmin women were educated and were well versed in poetry and literature. The names of the women usually consisted of four, three or two syllables. In the Ahom period, women enjoyed due freedom and respect and recorded history is replete with narratives of gallant women like Joymoti and Mula Gabharu. While the latter is supposed to have actual fought in the battle field, stories about the former's self-sacrifice for the love of her husband and country are legion. Women in early Assam were expert weavers (as indeed they still are), and also helped their partners in sowing and harvesting. In the modern period also, Assamese women have enjoyed a comparatively more equable status vis-à-vis the rest of India. Many women were active participants in the freedom movement: every Assamese has heard stories of Kanak Lata – the fearless and courageous woman whose passion of freedom is now the stuff of legends. Some of the more well-known women social workers of post-independent Assam are Amal Prabha Das, Chandra Prabha Saikiani, and Indira Miri etc.Another renowned personality of contemporary times is social reformer and the first lady Magistrate, Sushibrata Roy Choudhury.
|Food habits, we know, are directly connected to the geographic, environmental and climatic conditions of a given area. Like any other cuisine, Assamese food can be classified broadly into two divisions: the staple / principal diet and the peripheral / light food. Rice, meat, fruits and vegetables form the core of the Assamese diet. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian (mutton, pork, chicken, duck and pigeon meat) items are served with boiled rice.The meat is prepared in gravy or dry fried with green vegetables or steamed.|
|Some prepared dish of Assam|
‘Payas' and ‘Dugdhanna' are the favourite Assamese sweet dishes made with rice and milk as base ingredients. Other sweets like ‘Mandaka' and ‘Pistaka' were made from rice flour and ‘guda' (molasses). Buffalo milk, and the curd and ghee prepared from it seem to have been in use from early times.Early literature suggests different kinds of special dishes prepared with vegetables, pulses, fish and meat. Fish was prepared in different styles: with gravy, steamed, or roasted with chili. To the cuisine were added condiments and the locally available spices, like aadaa (ginger), Jeera (cumin), jaluk (pepper), karpura (camphor), and sariyoh (mustard). Among the herbs, ‘mulaka',' rajaka', 'vastuka', ‘palanga', ‘nalika', ‘sukna', ‘lapha' were used; young banana plant (posola) and bamboo shoots (banh gaaj) are known to be special delicacies; ‘Cakala', ‘thekera', ‘tenteli', ‘kordoi' and ‘ou-tenga' are citrus fruits and are used to make sour preparations. A few indigenous Assamese vegetables are ‘dhekia', ‘manimuni', ‘kalmou', ‘mahaneem', ‘jilmil', ‘khutura' etc. Despite the host of greens and vegetables available here, meat and fish are indispensable items on the menu. Fish-eating habit is in all probability a pre-Aryan habit and in Assam it might have been borrowed from the Mongolian people. The Assamese vocabulary allocates considerable space to the area - instruments used in fish-catching are referred to as ‘jaal'(fishing net), ‘barokhi' and ‘jakoi' (fishing implements), ‘khoka' & ‘sepa' (fish traps), and so on. Notably, the sacrifice of various kinds of animals was considered very auspicious. The Kalika Purana and Yogini Tantra explain in detail the merits of consuming meat. Besides mutton and various types of fowl, we also come across the consumption of venison. Interestingly, it was forbidden to eat the females of any species. Salt was scarce or not available at all in Assam – therefore, "Khaar", prepared from locally obtainable resources was used in almost every food preparation. Light refreshments (or snacks) were usually taken between meals. The versatile rice-corn yielded different food items of varying tastes: ‘komal rice', ‘hurum', ‘akhoi', ‘chira', ‘sandoh', ‘Chunga pitha or Chunga rice' (special steamed preparations prepared inside bamboo moulds). Also served as ‘jalpan' were ‘chira' and milk, served with ‘gur' (jaggery). The Assamese delicacy, the standard preparation during festivals was, and remains till today – the ubiquitous ‘Pitha'. The chief ingredient for this preparation is ‘pithaguri' (rice-powder). A large assortment of ‘pithas' are made – the ‘til pitha', the ‘tel pitha', the ‘tekeli mukhat diya pitha' – all of which taste uniquely different.
Some popular dishes of Assam are steamed or baked fish, masar sarsori (mustered fishh), Masar Khaar (alkaeline curry of fish), loubra (mixed vegetable curry), and Poita Bhat (Boiled rice is kept in water for 2-3 days to ferment and taen with salt, raw mustered oil, onion, ginger, chilli etc.) Any reference to food in Assam would remain incomplete without the mention of the customary chewing of betel nut and leaf together with lime and tobacco, particularly after the meals.
Articles of Luxury:
Agaru, sandalwood and musk were well known products of Assam in the early times. One notes the consistent use of these items at every ritual or ceremony. Perfumes and cosmetics were generally used by the wealthier people. Around five kinds of perfumes may be accorded pride of place: curnikrta (powder), ghrsta (paste), dahakarsita (ashes), sammarddaja rasa (juice), and pranangodbhava (musk). Scented oils were used for body massage before a bath. Sandal-paste was one of the favorite materials of luxury, and was well out of the reach of the common people. A rich perfume was prepared with ‘krsna-guru' oil, and this was generally preserved in Bamboo tubes. Anjana (kajal/eye liner) is also known to be used, as was Karpura (camphor). Musk was often used in preparing cosmetics. Much attention was paid to the beautification of the face; women usually stained their teeth with red or black colour. Hand-fans, garlands and ‘manimaya darpana' (jeweled mirror) were used by the women folk. Combs were made out of elephant-tusk, buffalo horn, wood, and bamboo. ‘Bichani', the hand-made fan was used in the summer days. Footwear was made of deer-hide and wood (the ‘khadama'). Hand-woven cloth was used for the locally designed umbrellas. The ‘Abhoga' was the special umbrella used by royalty and was the symbol of kingly authority; it is often seen spread over the heads of the idols of gods and goddesses. In the Ahom period, the ‘japi' (also a kind of umbrella) was commonly used. We come across different kinds of japi for the king and the queen, nobles, princes and common people. Intoxicating liquors were commonly used: the ‘Ulluka' is an example. The Yogini Tantra refers to the use of wine, meat and blood in the worship of the Goddess Kamesvari. To this day, ‘Laopani' or rice beer is regarded as the national beverage of tribal peoples. Betel nuts (‘Tamul') and leaves (‘paan') was used in religious and ceremonial functions in the early times – a tradition that still survives. These are the first offerings to a visitor to any household. Interestingly, time and distances were computed by the villagers by the interval required to chew a nut!
Dress and Ornaments:
Textiles and fabrics were principally of four types: the Karpasa (cotton), the Lakbala (wool), the Balka (bark), and the Kosaja (silk). Of these, cotton clothes were extensively used. The weaver was known as ‘Tanyvayas'. Kambala had the texture of fine wools; probably this was imported from the neighboring mountainous regions of Bhutan or Tibet. ‘Ha-ho-li' was a cap made out of coarse leather that was lined with soft down, and was designed to protect the pilgrim from the rain whilst on the road. Balaka indicates the use of fibers and fiber-made fabrics; this seems to be a unique concept where the bark of particular trees was rendered fit for weaving into cloth. ‘Ksauma' seems important in the context of the ancient period. In 15th century A.D. Kulluka refers Ksauma as a cloth made of Atasi fiber, worn on special occasions and was usually used exclusively by the queens. It was highly valued in the ancient period. Kautilya's Arthasastra mentions that ‘Duluka' (the finest form of ksauma) of Assam as the best available in India. He describes it as "red as the sun, as soft as the surface of the gem, woven while the threads were very uniform or mixed texture". It is clear that even in 4th century A.D. Assam was famed for the duluka that was fit for the royalty. The Kalika Purana refers to the hemp cloth, which was worn by the ordinary people. Hiuen Tsang mentions the ‘Sanaka', or the dark red cloth made from Sanaka plant. The ‘Kosaja' or ‘Kauseya' refers to the silk material obtained from silk cocoons. There were two kinds of silk: the ‘wild' silk and ‘true' silk. True silk was produced from the mulberry silkworm. The wild silk was the ‘Eri' and the ‘Muga'. Eri clothes were drab in color, coarse in color, but very durable. In ordinary winter season it could be use as shawl. One kind of Muga was the ‘Champa Muga', where the cocoon was fed on leaves from the Champa tree. This was the fine white silk worn by the Ahom kings and nobles. To obtain the ‘Mejankari Muga', the worms were fed on Mejankari or Adakari trees. This silk was worn by the people from the higher echelons of society. The art of dyeing both the yarn and the cloth was well-known; and primary colors like white, red, yellow and black or blue were commonly used. These fabrics were used by the hill people too. The Naga tribes were known to be expert weavers and dyers. For them, red and black were the dominant colors. There also evidences of the manufacture of embroidered clothes. The biography of Sankardeva refers to a scroll of cloth – ‘Vrindabaniya kapor' wherein the weavers of Tantikuchi used colored yarn to weave various scenes from the early life of Sri Krsna. The story goes that this tapestry was so heavy that at least sixty persons were required to lift it up. Clothes, both unstitched and tailored that were meant to be worn were referred to as ‘Vastra'. Men usually wore a single uncut garment called ‘dhooti'. The women wore two garments, the upper and the lower. The lower garments were fastened on the waist and it went down to the ankle.
The Ahoms wrapped a piece of fine linen round the head and a waist-band around the middle, placing a Chaddar on the shoulder. The rich among them are known to have worn a coat-like jacket during the winter. The women dressed differently in earlier times – the contemporary ensemble comprises of three garments: the Mekhela, the Chaddar, the ‘Riha' and the blouse. The male dress consists of the ‘Dhooti', continuing the trend set during the Barman Age in the 2nd century A.D. to 650 A.D. Among other garments are the ‘Chaddar', the ‘Shirastran', the ‘Tangalie' and the ‘Kurta'. Even the hairstyling trends are appropriately named – the women tied up their usually long tresses into a hair-knot – the Negheri Khopa, the Kaldilia khopa, the Ghila Khopa and the like.
The Assamese people have been fortunate to inherit an unbroken tradition of written literature, starting from the 13th century A.D. The earliest known patronage for such efforts had come from the Kamata royal court since two of the earliest poets, Harivara Vipra and Hema Saraswati, wrote benedictory verses in praise of the Kamata King Durlabha Narayan. During the 14th century, during the reign of the Barahi king Mahamanikya, Madhava Kandali was the most famous poet, rendering the Valmiki Ramayana into the most graceful and elegant Assamese verse, the earliest version of all Indian vernaculars. On the other hand, the Drona Parva of Mahabharata by Rudra Kandali is another important classical work of the 14th century A.D.
In the early part of the 15th century, the Bhakti Movement was underway in many parts of our country. This reform movement within Hinduism propagated the idea of one god – ‘Vishnu'. In Assam, Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva (1449-1568) initiated the movement and introduced new dimensions to the Assamese society and culture. Inhabited by people belonging to different castes and communities, the region at that time was a haven for ‘Saktism' and Tantricism. Sankardeva with his innovative thinking preached the ideals of the ‘Bhagavata' and advocated worship of the supreme God – Vishnu – in the form of Lord Krishna. In order to bring the message of his new religion closer to the masses he began to write a number of books in different literary forms (poetry and drama) in Assamese, Sanskrit and Brajavali. This made his religion at once more popular and meaningful, bringing together a cross section of people within the circumference of a single religious belief system. Among his masterpieces are Kirtan Ghosa, Rukmini-Haran, Keligopal, Kaliya Daman and Harichandra Upakhyan. His devotional songs – the Bargeet are magnificent examples of spiritual poetry. Sankardeva's disciple Madhavdevaa was also a great Sanskrit scholar and author of Namghosa, Arjun Bhajan, and Sordhara. Baikunthanath and Bhattadeva are the names of the other significant writers of the period. Katha Bhagabat and Katha Sita are the best known literary works by Bhattadeva. In a society where the learned class was the Brahmanas, book reading in the ancient period was not widely prevalent. The ‘Vyavaharis', the ‘Lekhakas' and other officials who copied books, made up the accounts, and drew up deeds were all educated. The educational institutions were known as the ‘guru-ghrha', and these were maintained by the Brahmanas. Sanskrit was the official language in the ‘tole' (school in the early period) and the students had to study the Vedas and other religious scriptures. In the Ahom period there is visible a great advancement in the literary domain due to the patronage of the king, ministers and nobles. Translations of the Epics and the Puranas were completed in that period. Most of these translations were done in simple linguistic structure, keeping at bay complex discussions. Most of the metaphysical or philosophical portions were replaced by devotional songs.
The Ahom kings used their aboriginal Tibetan-Chinese language in the beginning of their rule, but after Assamese became the language of the court, all literature was composed in the medium. Harivamsa and parts of the Mahabharata were translated. Kaviraj Ram Narayan Chakravarti is accredited with some of the greatest work in literature during the time. He translated a portion of Brahmavaivarta Purana and Padma Purana during the reign of Ahom king Rudra Sigha and Siva Singha. Among his other significant works are Sankha-Sura-Badh, Gita Gobinda and Sakuntala Kavya. Certain Sanskrit texts on the Kamasutra were translated into the Assamese language during the Ahom rule. The tales of Hitopadesa and Panchatantra were also made familiar. Drama and theatre was encouraged by the Ahom kings. ‘Ankia Bhaonas' are special types of dramatic performances; they were based on the Epics and Puranas. On special occasions these Bhaonas (or dramatic pieces) were performed in the royal palaces.
It is also during this time that Sanskrit tracts on science, medicine and astrology were translated into Assamese. The most important development in writing was in the field of history; historical accounts that were known as ‘Buranjis' (or prose chronicles) were compiled. The ‘Buranjis' were unique in their combination of unmatched literary style and invaluable historical information. Apart from the Buranjis, the other historical works were Charit-Puthi and Vamsavali. The Charit-Puthis such as Barphukanar Geet, Padam Kuwarir Geet and so on were mainly about the great Vaishnava saints and their peripheral society. Historical ballads were very popular, and still very popular among the Assamese.
A new epoch in literature started from British rule in Assam: it is often referred to as a Renaissance that echoed the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th century. A few eminent personalities of Assam like Haliram Dhekial Phukan and his brother Jagoram Kharghoria Phukan were among the first to introduce new ideas and learning. Haliram laid great emphasis on the literacy of women. He composed the Asam Buranji – the first historical work of the period in Assam. His brother took the lead in establishing English education in Assam. Haliram's son, Anandaram Dhekial Phukan, a civil servant, devoted himself to the task of regenerating Assamese society, founding the ‘Gyan Pradayini Sabha'. However, his greatest contribution was in the field of language and literature. As the literary consciousness among the Assamese people increased, various literary journals were published. In 1839, the first grammar book: A grammar of Assamese Language by Robinson was published. In 1846, the first monthly magazine, Arunodoi Sambad Patra was published. This literary era is now generally known as the ‘Age of Arunodoi'. Dr Nathan Brown, a missionary, was the first editor of Arunodoi. During this age, important works on grammar, fiction and lexicography were published. Hem Chandra Barua, Gunaviram Barua and Bholanath Das were some of the influential people of that period. The first Assamese social drama, Ram Nabami was staged by Gunaviram Barua during this period.
Another important monthly journal – Jonaki was published in 1889, and soon established itself as the leading voice in the domain of literature. Its contribution to the development of the Assamese language and literature was so great that the decade beginning 1889 is known as the ‘Age of Jonaki'. Some noted personalities of this period were Padmavati Devi Phukanani, Agni Kabi Kamalakanta, Chandra Kumar Agarwalla, and Lakhminath Bezbarua. The short stories written by Laxminath Bezbarua have a special place in the hearts of his readers, and even today remind us of his genius. In 1894 Rajanikanta Bordoloi published the first Assamese novel Miri Jiyari. In the modern period, Assamese literature has been immensely enriched by the works of Jyoti Prasad Agarwalla, Hem Barua, Atul Chandra Hazarika, Nalini Bala Devi, Navakanta Barua and others. In 1917, the ‘Asom Sahitya Sabha' was formed, and accorded the status of a guardian of the Assamese society and the forum for the development of Assamese language and literature. Padmanath Gohain Baruah was the first president of the society. After independence, modern Assamese literature began to flower, and the newer writers began to reach new heights. Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya, Nilmani Phikan, Nava Kanta Baruah, Mamoni Raisom Goswami, Bhabendra Nath Saikia, Syed Abdul Malik and many others have been recipients of high critical acclaim as well as popular readership. The ‘Asam Sahitya Sabha' has contributed hugely towards the popularity of modern literature. The first successful novel of this age is Jibanar Batot by Birinchi Kumar Barua. Its fresh approach to prose was based on spoken language – this was to become the order of the day. Short poems and novels, dramas, lyrics and folk poetry pleased the literary circle. Assamese literature today has a vibrant short story genre. Some of the best writers of the present generation are Phul Goswami, Mamoni Roisom Goswami, Harendra Kumar Bhuyan, Arupa Patangia Kalita and Manoj Kumar Goswami.
Naraka was a ‘Videha' prince who established himself as the king and conqueror of Kamrupa. It is believed that it was Naraka who invited a number of learned Brahmanas, well versed in the Vedas, into his kingdom. The process of settling Brahmanas in Assam was continued right up to the Ahom period. They spread Vedic culture in this province and various non-Aryan tribes were converted to Hinduism in the subsequent periods.
Notably, the existing belief patterns of the non-Aryan people influenced the Vedic religion; these were in the form of adoption of deities, religious myths, and cults. Some of the believers of specific Gods and Goddesses formed individual cults, like Shiva (Shaivasm), Vishnu (Vaishnavism) and Durga (Saktism). King Jalpesvara of North West Bengal first introduced Shiva-worship here. Naraka, when he established the ‘Kamakhya' temple, was an ardent devotee of lord Shiva. Shaivism was a fully developed religion at that time, and Shiva was known as ‘Parameswara', ‘Maheswara', ‘Isvara', ‘Mahavaraha' and so on. In the Ahom period Shaivism maintained its own place in spite of the success of Srimanta Sankardeva's movement. During the later period of the Ahom rule, many temples were constructed, the famous ‘Siva Dol' in Sibsagar among them.
The ‘Devi Purana' states that the Devi (Durga) was worshipped in different places in her different forms. Traditionally, the Sakta cult is considered to have its centre in Kamrupa with the chief temple being the famed ‘Kamakhya'; however, this cult was not for common people. Throughout the medieval period, the leading religion was ‘Saktism'. Even today the Kamakhya is the most holy and famous shrine of the sect and its worship is done with various rites, mantras, and sacrifices. In the Ahom period this religion enjoyed royal patronage from ‘Tung Khungia' dynasty. All the rulers were devout ‘Saktas'. To this day, ‘Devi Puja' is performed ardently.
Although Vaishnavism was present from the early times; the kings of Kamrupa traced their lineage to Vishnu through Naraka. The different names of ‘Vishnu' were used as personal names. The worship of the ten ‘avataras' is a notable feature of this sect. Among them, Krishna was the most popular - the theme of much of the early Assamese literature. Another avatar ‘Hayagriva' is even today worshiped in the ‘Hayagriva Madha' temple. In the Ahom period Neo-Vaishnavism was preached in Assam by Sankardeva (1449-1569). During the time of Suhungmung and Naranarayan, this religion spread rapidly. After the death of Sankardeva, it was divided into several sub-sects. Many ‘Satras' sprang up in the region; the Gossains of the Satras enjoying the highest power, respect and prestige. Side by side we find the existence of the Ahom Gods and Goddesses called ‘Deodhanis' and ‘Bailongs'. The Ahoms had entered into Assam with their own religion and ‘Somdev' was their tutelary deity. The Ahoms may have adopted many different religions but till the end of their rule, the tutelary god was worshipped. Muslims were also found to be present during the Ahom period. They observed their customary fasts and prayers.
Apart from the major religions, Buddhism was also present from ancient time. The expressions ‘dharma' and ‘tathagata' from the grants of Bhaskarvarmana and Indrapala, are believed to have been borrowed from Buddhism. The Tibetan historian Taranatha, in his history of Buddhism, compiled in the year 1608, refers to the prevalence of Buddhism in Kamrupa. Taranatha specifically refers to two Buddhists preachers – Dhitika and Asvabhava who were responsible for converting a fair number of people into Buddhism here. Valid Indian and ‘Tibetan' sources provide us with materials regarding the prevalence of Buddhism in the form of ‘Vajrayana' in Assam.
In contemporary times, all of the above religions are adhered to by different people. The tradition of co-existence and assimilation in matters of faith make Assam a uniquely liberal space for religion.
Reference Books :
Assamand Assamese Mind by Nagen Saikia
History of Assam by Devabrata Datta
Cultural History of Assam by B.K Baruah
Also surfing various websites