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The people of Assam have traditionally been craftsmen from time immemorial.Though Assam is mostly known for its exquisite silks and the bamboo and caneproducts, several other crafts are also made here. Different regions of Assam are known for their different forms of art and handicrafts.

 
 

Cane and Bamboo

Cane and bamboo have remained inseparable parts of life in Assam. Grown in abundance here and hence most of the household articles in the homes of Assamese are made of cane and bamboo. They happen to be the two most commonly-used items in daily life, ranging from household implements to construction of dwelling houses to furniture to weaving accessories to musical instruments.

The Jappi, the traditional sunshade continues to be the most prestigious of bamboo items of the state, and it has been in use since the days when the great Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang came to Assam that visitors are welcomed with a jaapi.

 

 
 

Metal Crafts

Bell-metal and brass have been the most commonly used metals for the Assamese artisan. Traditional utensils and fancy artiicles designed by these artisans are found in every Assamese household. The Xorai and bota have in use for centuries, to offer betel-nut and paan while welcoming distinguished guests.

The entire population of two townships near Guwahati - Hajo and Sarthebari, are engaged in producing traditional bell-metal and brass articles. They have also used their innovative skills to design modern day articles to compete with the changing times.

Gold, silver and copper too form a part of traditional metal craft in Assam and the State Museum in Guwahati has a rich collection of items made of these metals. Gold however is now used only for ornaments.

 

 
 

Handlooms

Assam's silk fabrics have earned immense recognition from all over the world. The state is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent and prestigious being muga, the golden silk exclusive to this state. Muga apart, there is paat, as also eri, the latter being used in manufacture of warm clothes for winter. Of a naturally rich golden colour, muga is the finest of India's wild silks. It is produced only in Assam.

The women of Assam weave fairy tales in their looms. In earlier times, te skill to weave was the primary qualification of a young girl for her eligibility for marriage. This perhaps explains why Assam has the largest concentration of handlooms and weavers in India. One of the world's finest artistic traditions finds expression in their exquisitely woven 'Eri', 'Muga' and 'Pat' fabrics.

The traditional handloom silks still hold their own in world markets They score over factory-made silks in the richness of their textures and designs, in their individuality, character and classic beauty. No two handwoven silks are exactly alike. Personality of the weaver, her hereditary skill, her innate sense of colour and balance all help to create a unique product.

Today, 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 colours of their choice. A service that ensures an exclusive product not easily repeatable by competitors.

The Tribals on the other hand have a wide variety of colourful 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 so moved that he remarked : "Assamese women weave fairy tales in their clothes!"

 

 
 

Toys

The toys of Assam can be broadly classified under four heads (i) clay toys (ii) pith (iii) wooden and bamboo toys (iv) cloth and cloth-and-mud toys.

While the human figure, especially dolls, brides and grooms, is the most common theme of all kinds of toys, a variety of animals forms have also dominated the clay-toys scene of Assam. Clay traditionally made by the Kumar and Hira communities, have often depicted different animals too, while gods, goddesses and other mythological figures also find importance in the work of traditional artist.

Pith or Indian cork has also been used for toy-making since centuries in Assam. Such toys are chiefly made in the Goalpara region and they include figures of gods, animals and birds, the last of which again dominate the over-all output.

Wood and bamboo on the other hand have been in use for making toys for several centuries, and like the other mediums, come as birds, animals and human figures.

Toys of cloth as also with a mixture of cloth and mud too have constituted part of the rich Assamese toy-making tradition. While the art of making cloth toys have 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

Pottery is probably as old as human civilisation itself. In Assam, pottery can be traced back to many centuries.

The Kumars and Hiras are two traditional potter communities of Assam and while the Kumars use the wheel to produce his 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 earthern pots and pitchers, plates, incense-stick holders, earthern lamps etc, while modern-day decoratives have also found place in their latest designs.

 

 
 

Woodcraft

Assam has always remained one of the most forest-covered states of the country, and the variety of wood and timber available here have formed a part of the people's culture and ecomony.

An Assamese can identify the timber by touching it even in darkness, and can produce a series of items from it. While decorative panels in the royal Ahom palaces of the past and the 600-years old satras or Vaishnative monasteries are intricately carved on wood, a special class of people who excelled in wood carving came to be known as Khanikar, a surname proudly passed down from generation to generation.

The various articles in a satra and naam-ghar(place of worship) are stiff cut on wood, depicting the guru asana (pedestal of the lords), apart from various kinds of birds and animals figuring in mythology.

Modern-day Khanikar have taken to producing articles of commercial values, including figures of one-horned rhino and replicas of the world-famous Kamakhya temple - two items heading the list of demands of a visitor from outside.

 

 
 

Masks

With tribal art and folk elements form the base of Assamese culture, masks havefound 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 to pith to metal, bamboo and wood.

Similarly, among the tribals too, the use of masks is varied and widespread, especially in their colourful dances which again revolve chiefly around thier typical tribal myth and folklore. Such traditional masks have of late found thier 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

Gold has always constituted the most-used metal for jewellery in Assam, while the use of silver and other metals too have been there for centuries.

In the old days, gold was locally available, flowing down several Himalayan rivers, of which Subansiri is the most important. In fact, a particular tribe of people, the Sonowal Kacharis were engaged only for gold-washing in these rivers.

Jorhat in Upper Assam is one place where the traditional Assamese form of manufacture of jewellery is still in vogue, and people flock to Jorhat to get the exquisite Assamese jewellery. Assamese jewellery include the doog-doogi, loka-paro, bana, gaam-kharu, gal-pata, jon-biri, dhol-biri and keru, all of which have also encouraged the modern jewellers to producing similiar designs mechanically.

 

 
 

Terracotta

Terracotta as a medium has dominated the handicraft scene of Assam since time immemorial. The tradition itself has been handed down from the generation to generation without break. Today we have the descendent of such families engaged in improvised terracotta versions of various common figures of gods and goddesses to mythological characters, while toys, vases, etc have also found a new life.

 

 
 

Traditional Paintings

The tradition of paintings in Assam can be traced back to several centuries in the past. Ahom palaces and satras and naam-ghar etc still abound in brightly-coloured paintings depicting various stories and events from history and mythology. In fact, the motifs and designs contained in Chitra-Bhagavata have come to become a traditional style for Assamese painters of the later period, and are still in practice today.

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Assam is a land of fairs and festivals. Most of the festivals celebrated in Assam have their roots in the diverse faith and belief of her inhabitants, but a spirit ofaccommodation and togetherness characterizes the celebration of all festivals.

The perfect fusion of heritage of her numerous races has made Assam the home of the most colorful festivals which are passionate, compelling and mesmerizing reflecting the true spirit, tradition and lifestlye of the people of Assam.

The major festivals celebrated in Assam are Bihu, Baishagu, Ali-Ai-Ligang, Baikho, Rongker, Rajini Gabra Harni Gabra, Bohaggiyo Bishu, Ambubashi Mela and Jonbill Mela and so on.

The people of Assam also celebrate Holi, Durga Puja, Diwali, Swaraswati Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Kali Puja, Idd, Muharram, Me-Dam-Me-Phi, the birth and death anniversaries of Vaishnava Saints Srimanta Sankardev and Madhabdev.The tribals of Assam have their own colourful festivals like the Kherai Puja of the Bodos, the Baikhu and Pharkantis of the Rabhas, Ali-ai-ligang and Parag of the Mishing tribe, the Sagra-misawa wansawa and laghun of the Tiwas.

The Ahoms of Tai origin celebrate Me-Dum-Me-Phi on the 31st of January annually.

The Ojapali dances of non-Vaishnavite origin are usually associated with the Serpent Goddess Manasa.

Bathow festival is celebrated by the Kacharis through sacrifice of goats and chickens. The Boros of the plains in general have an intricate pattern of indigenous dances associated with the primitive rituals like Kherai Puja. The Dimasas celebrate Rangi Gobra and Harni Gobra at the start of the cropping cycle for prosperity to ward off calamities. The Deoris observe Bohagiya visu- the Spring time festival.

 

BIHU:

Bihu is the most important festival of Assam. It is celebrated with joy and abundance by all Assamese people irrespective of caste, creed, religion, faith and belief. Bihu can be broadly divided into three categories: Bohag Bihu which augurs the wish for a good harvest because this is the time when farmers start sowing, Kaati Bihu which is observed to mark the cutting and binding of grains and Magh Bihu which marks the season of harvesting of grains.

Tribal groups like the Mishings, the Deoris, and the Morans celebrate "Bihu" with dances of their own distinctive style.




Ambubachi Mela:

Is the most important festival of Kamakhya temple of Guwahati and is held every year during monsoon (mid-June). It is a ritual of austerities celebrated with 'Tantric rites'. It is a common belief that the reigning diety, 'Kamakhya' , 'The Mother Shakti' goes through her annual cycle of menstruation during this period.During Ambubashi the doors of the temple remain closed for three days. It is believed that the earth becomes impure for three days. During this time no farming work is undertaken. Daily worship and other religious performances are suspended during this period. After three days, the temple doors are reopened after the Goddess is bathed and other rituals performed. It is believed that the mother earth regains her purity now. This is purely a ritual of Tantric cult. Ambubachi mela is held at the Kamakhya temple, after being closed for the afore-mentioned three days. On the fourth day only the devotees are allowed to enter inside the temple for worship. Thousands of devotees from all over India visit this mela.

Me-Dum-Me-Phi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most important Ahom festival which deserves mention is the Me-Dum-Me-Phi, i.e., the ancestor worship festival which is observed by the whole Ahom community. This is performed annually on the 31st of January at some common venue. This in a way helps to develop social contacts and community feelings among the Ahoms. Colourful processions with devotees in traditional finery are also taken out on the occasion.

 
 Jonbeel Mela

This spectacular fair(mela) is held every year during winter at Jonbeel of Jagiroad, a lesser known township only 32 kms from Guwahati. A few days before the mela, tribes like the Tiwas, Karbis, Khasis, Jaintias from the Meghalaya hills come down with their various products for this mela. On the occasion of the 'mela' a big bazar is held here where these tribes exchange thier products with local people in barter system which is very rare in a civilized modern society.

Before the 'mela' they perform fire worship or agni puja for the well being of mankind. It is to be noted that during this mela the 'govaraja' or the king of the Tiwa trbe along with his courtiers visit this mela and collect taxes from his subjects. The significant point of this mela is its theme of harmony and brotherhood amongst various tribes and communities. During the 'mela' these communities perform their traditional dances and music to celebrate the mela in a befitting manner.
 
 
Baishagu

Famous for its myriad colours and merriment, 'Baishagu' is generally celebrated by the Bodo Kacharis during mid April. It is the most cherished festival of the Bodo tribe. The Bodos also celebrate it as a springtime festival at the advent of the new year.

The first day begins with worship of the cow. The next day which synchronises with the first day of the month of 'Bohag' of the Assamese almanac, the actual merriment begins with the young people of each household reverentialy bowing down to their parents and elders. The supreme deity 'Bathou' or Lord Shiva is worshipped during the festival by offering chicken and rice beer. In the Baishagu dance there is no age or sex bar, all are welcome to join in. The traditional musical instruments that are used in this dance festival are 'Khum' (drum), 'Jotha' (Manjari), 'Khawbang' (Taal), 'Gogona' (Mouth-organ) and 'Siphung' (Flute) etc. It is also customary at the time of closure of the Baishagu festival to offer community prayers at a particular place called 'Garjasali'.
 
 
Bohaggiyo Bishu

This is the most fascinating spring festival of the Deoris of Assam, one of the four divisions of the Chutiyas, who are believed to have been members of the great Boro race. The term 'Bishu' might have originated from the Chutiya word 'Bishu'. 'Bi' means extreme and 'Su' means 'rejoicing' like other Springtime tribal festivals.

Bohaggiyo Bishu is also observed during mid-April at a stretch for seven days withunrestricted joy and merrymaking. It is to be observed that the Deoris Bishu do not always fall on the Sankranti Day. The Bishu must be preceded by a 'Than puja' and evidently it must start on a Wednesday. There is much socio-religious significance and arrangements to be made before the puja. Once in every four years a white buffalo is sacrificed which is considered a substitute for the traditional human sacrifice. The Deodhani dance is the most important and significant part of the festival. Husori or carol song party is the main attraction.

 
 
 
Rajini Gabra & Harni Gabra

The annual festival of the colourful Dimasa tribe. It is exclusively a socio-religious festival which is generally observed before starting a new cultivation. Rajini Gabra is celebrated during day time. The 'Kunang' or the village headman propitiates the family deity by closing the village gate on the worship date. On the same night in a function called 'Harni Gabra', the presiding deity is worshipped for the protection and welfare of the people.

It is very interesting to note that during the Rajini Gabra and Hami Gabra festival if any outsider enters the village inspite off seeing the closed gate, the entire function is considered to be spoilt. The intruders then have to bear the total cost for holding the festival anew.

 
 
 
Rongker and Chomangkan

Rongker and Chomangkan are the two most important festivals of the Karbis, an indeginous tribe of Karbi Anglong.

Rongker is basically a springtime festival of merriment and is performed at the beginning of the New year, i.e. April. To propitiate different gods and goddesses for the well being of the entire village, the elderly male folk organise Rongker so thatpeople can be free from diseases and natural calamities for the entire year. They pray for a good harvest too. The women are not allowed to enter the worship arena during this festival.

On the other hand, Chomangkan is the festival dedicated to the dead. It is primarily a death ceremony. There is no particular time for holding this funeral ceremony. It depends upon the convenience of the locality. This festival is a must for every Karbi. It is a nonstop four days and four nights celebration.

 
 
 
Ali-Ai-Ligang

Ali-Ai-Ligang, the spring festival of the Mishing Tribe is the most colourful festival held every year on the first Wednesday (Ligange lange) of the month of 'Ginmur Polo' (February-March). 'Ali' means root, seed; 'Ai' means fruit and 'Ligang' means sow. That is why 'ceremonial' sowing of paddy starts on this day. A dance is performed by the young boys and girls, characterized by brisk stepping, flinging and flapping of hands and swaying of hips reflecting youthful passion, reproductive urge and joie-de-vivre.

"Poro Aapong" or rice beer, Pork and dried fish is essential for the feast. The festival continues for five days and during this festival certain taboos with respect to the cutting of trees, fishing, ploughing, burning jungles etc. are strictly observed.

 
 
 


Baikho

There is another colourful tribe in Assam, known as Rabhas. Although the Rabha community does not have any national festival of their own, the different groups celebrate their own festivals. The 'Baikho' or the Springtime festival is only celebrated to propitiate the goddess of wealth 'Baikho'. But unfortunately the pomp and grandeur of Baikho are not to be seen nowadays in the villages.

 
 
 
Dosa Thoi! Long Nai

This is a very important religious dance performed at the 'Bathou Puja' or worshipping of God-Shiva. In this dance the priestess called Deodini dances with a bowl of blood of a sacrificed fowl on her head. It is believed that while the Deodini performs this dance in a trance, Lord Bathou (Shiva) will snatch away the bowl and drink the blood.

 

 

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Tea

Of the agriculture-based industries, tea occupies an important place in Assam. The plants used to grow naturally in the Upper Brahmaputra valley. Robert Bruce, an official of the British empire, who is credited with the discovery of tea in Assam in 1823, gave publicity of the existence of the plant, the leaves of which were boiled to prepare the tea.

In Assam, tea is grown both in the Brahmaputra and Barak plains. Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Nagaon and Sonitpur are the districts where tea gardens are mostly found. Assam produces 51% of the tea produced in India and about 1/6th of the tea produced in the world.

In 1911 a Tea Research Centre was started at Toklai in Jorhat for developing more scientific and fruitful methods of cultivating tea plants, applying fertilizer, testing soil, selecting sites for garden and processing tea leaves. This is the oldest and largest Tea Research Centre in the world.

Instant tea project was established at the Tea Research Centre of Toklai Experimental Station in 1974. Instant tea is a golden coloured powder which dissolves in hot or cold water easily.

For a better marketing of the tea produced in Assam and the entire North EasternStates, a Tea Auction Centre - Guwahati Tea Auction Centre - was established in 1970 at Guwahati. This is the world's largest CTC tea auction centre and the world's second largest in terms of total tea. It now auctions more than 150 million kg of tea valued at more than Rs 550.00 crores annually.

Tea industry has contributed substantially to the economy of Assam. About 17 percent of the workers of Assam are engaged in the tea industry.

 

 
 

Oil

Assam is the first state in the country where in 1889 oil was struck at Digboi. Assam can boast of having the oldest oil refinery in the country. This refinery set up at Digboi, in Tinsukia district, started commercial production in 1901. The refinery, now belonging to the Assam Division of the Indian Oil Corporation, has a refining capacity of 3 lakh tonnes of petrol, kerosene, diesel and other petroleum products.

The second refinery in Assam was set up at Noonmati in Guwahati under the public sector. It started production in 1962. It produces liquified petroleum gas (LPG), petrol, kerosene, diesel, furnace oil, coke etc.

The third refinery in the region was established at Dhaligoan near Bongaigaon in 1962. It is known as Bongaigaon Refinery and Petro-Chemicals Limited (BRPL).

The fourth refinery in the state was established at Numaligarh of Golaghat district in 1999, with a refining capacity of 3 million tonnes of oil and other products.

 
 

Natural Gas

Like petroleum, natural gas is a valuable source of power and various other chemical by-products. In Assam, almost all the petroleum producing areas of the Brahmaputra Valley, especially Naharkatia, Moran, Lakuwa and Rudrasagar, contains 'associated natural gas'. The important industries so far built up on the basis of the natural gas of Assam are Namrup Fertilizer Factory, Namrup Thermal Power Project, Production of Carbon Black, Assam Petrochemicals and Assam Gas Company, which provides liquified petroleum gas for domestic use. There are LPG bottling plants at Duliajan, North Guwahati, Silchar etc. The BRPL also uses natural gas as raw material to produce various chemicals.

 

 
 

Coal

Assam has large reserves of coal too. The State is said to contain about 1200 million tonnes of coal reserves. The first coal mining in the region was started in 1865 at the Makum coal-fields by the erstwhile Assam Railway and Trading Company and now it is mined by the North-Eastern Coal-Fields.

The coal belt extends from Dilli-Joypur in the west to Tipok in the east. The entire coal in this region is unique in the sense that it is highly volatile(36% - 42%), has low ash content (3% - 15%) and possesses high crackling index ( 10% - 29%).

Coal is found in Koilajan, Umrangshu, Khota-Arda in the Hills District of Assam and is mined by the Assam Mineral Development Corporation

 

 
 

Granite

Assam is endowed with granites of variegated colours, ranging from off-white to grey and pink. It is found in central and lower parts of Assam. The grey granite is extensively used in road making and as a railway ballast. So far, it has hardly been exploited for decorative purposes and has great potential.

 

 
 

Limestone and Cement

Limestone is an important mineral which is used in the manufacture of cement, as flux in iron and steel production, and as raw materials for chemical industries. The Kailajan and Dilai area of Bokajan sub-division have high quality limestone, which is used in the Bokajan Cement Factory. Assam has only one large cement factory in Bokajan, in Karbi Anglong district. It now produces about 1.8 lakh metric tonnes of cement annually. Besides this there are a few mini cement plants in the North Cachar Hills based on limestone produced in the Umrangsho area of Assam.

 

 
 

Tourism

Tourism has become an important industry in many countries of the world, both in the east and the west. Various initiatives are being taken by the Government and other organisations to promote tourism here. Every year the number of visitors to Assam has been steadily increasing.

 

 
 

Cottage Industry

Assam was traditionally famous for it's cottage industry, especially spinning and weaving. Pat or pure silk production is essentially confined to Assam. Assam produces about 10% of total natural silk of India.

Assam also produces Muga, the golden silk. Assam is also the main producer of Eri or Endi. Weaving is an important cottage industry of Assam. It is a traditional industry which can be traced back to very ancient times.

There are about 7,00,000 looms in Assam, where majority are primitive foot looms. Only some looms of Sualkuchi, used for commercial production of silk cloth, are powerised.

 

 
 

Other Industries

Bell-metal work is a traditional cottage industry of Assam. The normal products of bell-metal are the traditional plates, cups, tumblers, pitchers, bowls, sarais (a tray with a stand), dwarf pitchers, pots, hookahs and musical instruments.

Brass-work is also an important traditional handicraft of Assam. Brass articles are produced not only for day-to-day use, but also for interior decoration. The totalproduction of marketable finished goods annually is about 300 tonnes.

Apart from the above, some other cottage industries have come up in the State. These include ivory work of Barpeta; pottery industry of Hajo, Singimari, Mornoi; bamboo and cane work specially in the hills; goldsmithy, coir industry of Nalbari; hand-made paper industry of Chandkhuchi in Nalbari district; soap making in almost all important towns of the State etc.

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Photograph courtesy:

1. AMLAN JYOTI BHUYAN

    PH NO :- 9706109221
 
2. BIJOY SHANKAR SAIKIA

    PH NO :- 8486994437

 

 

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Best approached via Jorhat, Majuli is the world's largest inhabited river island. It is also the focal point of Vaishnava Culture. Majuli is renowned for its important Satras (Vaishnava Monastries). For the Assamese, this place is particularly revered as Sankardeva, the 16th century leader of Vaishnava revivalism, established the Satras. Majuli is home to the Mishing Tribe who migrated from Arunachal. They are Assam's only riverine tribal community and they make some astoundingly beautiful shawls and blankets which are also used as wall hangings.

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