Culture of Assam
The culture of Assam is traditionally a hybrid one, developed due to cultural assimilation of different ethnocultural groups under various politico- economic systems in different periods of history.
Assamese culture in its true sense today is a ‘cultural system’ composed of different subsystems. It is more interesting to note that even many of the source cultures of Assamese culture are still surviving either as sub-systems or assister entities. In a broader sense, therefore, the Assamese cultural system incorporates its source cultures and however, it is also important to keep the broader system closer to its roots.
Assam is the meeting ground of diverse cultures. The people of the enchanting state of Assam is an intermixture of various racial stocks such as Mongoloid, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian and Aryan. The Assamese culture is a rich and exotic tapestry of all these races evolved through a long assimilative process. The natives of the state of Assam are known as “Asomiya” (Assamese), which is also the state language of Assam. The state has a large number of tribes, each unique in its tradition, culture, dress and exotic way of life. Diverse tribes like Bodo, Kachari, Karbi, Rabha, etc co-exist in Assam, most tribes have their own languages though Assamese is the principal language of the state.
A majority of the Assamese is the Vaishnavas. The two important cultural and religious institutions that influence the cultural fabric of Assam: the Satras, the site of religious and cultural practice which have been in existence for over 400 years and the Naamghar, the house of prayers. Villagers generally associate on the basis of membership of a local center of devotional worship called “Naamghar“. Villages are usually made up of families from a number of distinct castes.
The national festival of Assam is the Bihu which is celebrated in three parts during a year with great pomp and grandeur by all Assamese, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. Some of the common cultural traits available across these systems are:
Respect towards areca-nut and betel leaves
Respect towards particular symbolic cloth types such as Gamosa, Arnai, etc
Respect towards Jaapi
Respect towards traditional silk and cotton garments
Respect towards forefathers and elderly
Symbolism is an important part of Assamese culture. Various elements are being used to represent beliefs, feelings, pride, identity, etc. Symbolism is an ancient cultural practice in Assam, which is still very important for the people. Tamulpan, Xorai, and Gamosa are three important symbolic elements in Assamese culture.
Tamulpan (the areca nut and betel leaves) or guapan (Gua from Kwa ) are considered as the offers of devotion, respect, and friendship. It is an ancient tradition and is being followed since time immemorial with roots in the aboriginal Austroasiatic culture.
Xorai, a traditional symbol of Assam, is a manufactured bell-metal object and an article of great respect and is used as a container medium while performing respectful offerings. It is an offering tray with a stand at the bottom.
The Gamosa is an article of great significance for the people of Assam. Literally translated, it means ‘something to wipe the body with’ (Ga=body, mosa =to wipe); interpreting the word “gamosa” as the body-wiping towel is misleading. It is generally a white rectangular piece of cloth with primarily a red border on three sides and red woven motifs on the fourth (in addition to red, other colors are also used). Though it is used daily to wipe the body after a bath (an act of purification), the use is not restricted to this. It is used by the farmer as a waistcloth (tongali ) or a loincloth (Suriya ); a Bihu dancer wraps it around the head with a fluffy knot. It is hung around the neck at the prayer hall and was thrown over the shoulder in the past to signify social status. Guests are welcomed with the offering of a gamosa and tamul ( betel nut ) and elders are offered gamosas (Bihuwaan) during Bihu.
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