India: Tourism event celebrates the ancient culture of Assamis
Such festivals not only preserve the culture of the region but also promote tourism. A three-day long “Ethnique Festival” was held recently in the Bhagchung area of Assam’s Jorhat District.
On display was a slice of their rich culture which included dances, folk music and traditional food.
The main attraction of the festival was the Mising traditional dances performed by youth in colorful attires.
The visitors got a chance to witness various dances such as Mibu Dagnam, shamanistic dance, Ali Aye Ligang, Gumrag and Selloiya.
The event was organized by I-Card with an aim to empower the unemployed youth and school dropouts.
Father K.A. Thomas, Director, I-CARD, said: “One of the main purpose of organizing this “Ethnique Festival” is empowering the unemployed youth and school dropout. People may think that we are looking about the festival and we need a thousand and thousands of people to come and see our festival. Even many people come to see our festival but what we have done and what we have helped our young people to achieve is much more important.”
Rajesh Guli, a participant, said: “We have come here to perform our cultural dance and songs. Through this festival, we get to know more about different dances of the Missing tribe, and it’s very good to perform here.”
Many locals and tourists thronged the venue and had a gala time. A short skit was also performed by the youth as a part of the event.
In order to give a boost to the local handloom and handicrafts, a number of stalls were also put up, showcasing the fine craftsmanship of the locals.
Manoj Kumar Jain, a visitor, said: “It’s very good to be here. It was such a colorful dance. I got to see the colorful costumes which they displayed. We don’t get to see such things often, so it’s a very good festival.”
Food stalls from various tribes and communities were also set up. A photo exhibition displayed the lifestyle of the people from the Northeast.
What is the ancient culture of Assamis
The culture of Assamis traditionally a hybrid one, developed due to cultural assimilation of different ethno-cultural groups under various politico-economic systems in different periods of history.
The roots of the culture go back to almost two thousand years when the first cultural assimilation took place with Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman as the major components. With reference from the great epics Mahabharata and on the basis of the local folk lore it is also hypothised that there was probably a strong kingdom of these mixed population (of Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman origin) in the era before Jesus Christ, which led to an early assimilation at a greater scale. Typical naming of the rivers and spatial distribution of related ethno-cultural groups also support that. Thereafter, western migrations such as those of various branches of Mediterraneans, Inrano-skythians and Nordics along with (or in the form of) the mixed northern Indians (the ancient cultural mix already present in northern Indian states such as Magadha) have enriched the aboriginal culture and under certain stronger politico-economic systems, Sanskritisation and Hinduisation intensified and became prominent. Such an assimilated culture therefore carries many elements of source cultures, of which exact roots are difficult to trace and are matter of research. However, in each of the elements of Assamese culture, i.e. language, traditional crafts, performing arts, festivity and beliefs either local elements or the local elements in a Hinduised / Sanskritised forms are always present.
Traditional painting, Assam
It is believed that under the great dynasties of Pragjyotisha-Kamrupa (Varman dynasty for 300 years, Xalostombho dynasty for 200 years and the Pala dynasty for another 200 years) during the first millennium AD, Assamese culture in its original form got developed. The records of many aspects of the language, traditional crafts (silk, lac, gold, bronze, etc.), etc. are available in different forms. When the Tai-Shans entered the region in 1228 under the leadership of Sukaphaa to form one of the strongest politico-economic systems (Ahom kingdom) in Assam for the next 600 years, again a new chapter of cultural assimilation was written. The original Tai-Shans assimilated with the local culture, adopted the language on one hand and on the other also influenced the main-stream culture with the elements from their own. Similarly the Koch kingdom in the western Assam and the medieval Kachari kingdoms (Kocary) and Jaintia kingdoms in the southern Assam provided stages for assimilation at different intensities and with different cultural-mix.
Vaishanav Movement, the 15th century religio-cultural movement under the leadership of great Srimanta Sankardeva (Xonkordeu) and his disciples have provided another dimension to Assamese culture. A renewed Hinduisation in local forms took place, which was initially greatly supported by the Koch and later by the Ahom Kingdoms. The resultant social institutions such as namghar and sattra (the Vaishnav Monasteries) have become part of Assamese way life. The movement contributed greatly towards language, literature and performing and fine arts. It is also noticed that many a times, Vaishnav Movement attempted to introduce alien cultural attributes and modify the way of life of common people. Brajavali a language specially created by introducing words from other Indian languages had failed as a language but left its traces on the Assamese language. Moreover, new alien rules were also introduced changing people’s food habits and other aspects of cultural life. This had a greater impact on alienation of many local ethno-cultural and political groups in the later periods.
Historically, it is not difficult to understand that on one hand, during the strong politico-economic systems under stronger dynasties, greater cultural assimilations created common attributes of Assamese culture, while on the other during smaller politico-economic systems or during political disintegration, more localised attributes were created with spatial differentiation. Time-factor for such integrations and differentiations has also played extremely important role along with the position of individual events in the entire series of sequential events.
With a strong base of tradition and history, the modern Assamese culture is greatly influenced by various events those took place in the British Assam and in the Post-British Era. The language was standardised by the American Missionaries with the form available in the Sibsagar (Xiwoxagor) District (the nerve centre of the Ahom politico-economic system). A renewed Sanskritisation was increasingly adopted for developing Assamese language and grammar. A new wave of Western and northern Indian influence was apparent in the performing arts and literature.
Due to increasing efforts of standardisation in the 19th and 20th century, the localised forms present in different districts and also among the remaining source-cultures with the less-assimilated ethno-cultural groups have seen greater alienation. However, Assamese culture in its hybrid form and nature is one of the richest and is still under development.