Assam, the land of hills and valleys, the land of the mighty river Brahmaputra, the land of Mother Goddess Kamakhya, lies in the northeastern corner of India. In these pages, you will find a few glimpses of Assam and Assamese people.
Assam is a land of about 25 million people situated in the northeast corner of India. The principal language of Assam is Assamese although a large number of other languages are spoken. Assam comprises an area of 78,523 square kilometers (30,318 square miles). Except for a narrow corridor running through the foothills of the Himalayas that connects the state with West Bengal, Assam is almost entirely isolated from India. The capital of Assam, is Dispur, a suburb of Guwahati in 1972.
The name "Assam" is derived from the term "Asom" which, in Sanskrit, refers to unequal or unrivalled. The uneven topography of the land, full of hills, plains and rivers might, therefore, have contributed to her name. The Mongolian Ahom dynasty which had ruled Assam for more than six hundred years might also be the cause for her name.
Assam is a land with an illustrious recorded history going back to the 4th century BC. Assam was an independent kingdom throughout all of history till the end of the first quarter of the 19th century when the British conquered the kingdom and annexed it to British India. The current state capital of Assam, Guwahati, known in ancient time as Pragjyotishpura or The Eastern City of Light, was the capital of Kamrup which finds frequent mention in the Great Hindu Epic Mahabharata and other Sanskrit volumes and historical lores.
Assam's economy is based on agriculture and oil. Assam produces a significant part of the total tea production of the world. Assam produces more than half of India's petroleum.
The current political situation in Assam is unstable with United Liberation of Asom (ULFA) fighting a low-intensity but wide-spread guerrilla warfare for independence from India. Although the Indian military has tried to quell the insurgents with a large presence for more than ten years, they have been not very successful. There are other militant groups who are seeking independence or autonomy in Assam. There have been consistent reports of grave human rights violations in Assam committed primarily by the Indian military.
Photo of sunset on the campus of Jorhat Engineering College was taken by Chandan Mahanta of St. Louis.
The humidity that is brought into Assam by the southwest monsoons, which shower an average annual rainfall of 120 inches or more on the great Brahmaputra valley and the surrounding region, also create spectacular sunsets during most of the year. The monsoons are Assam's life blood; creating a bio-diversity that can compete with the equatorial rain-forests and painting the region with a thousand shades of green.
Historically speaking, the first king who ruled over Kamrupa was Pushya Varman (350-380 AD), who was a contemporary of Samudragupta (350-375 AD). He took on the title of Maharajadhiraj and ensured steps to establish Kamrupa as a frontier state. Mahendra Varman, a descendent of Pushya Varman, was the first king of Kamrupa who waged a successful war against the Gupta army and also the first Varman king who performed the Ashwamedha Yagya. The rule of the Varman dynasty found apex in the rule of Bhaskar Varman (594-650 AD), because it is with the rule of Bhaskar Varman, that a new epoch of Assam history opened.
Harshavardhan (606-648 AD) was a contemporary of Bhaskar Varman. Harshavardan honoured Bhaskar Varman at a conference held at Kanauj. The dynasty of the Varman kings ended with Bhaskar Varman (650 AD).
The Salasthambha dynasty was the next in the line which began with the reign of a chieftain called Salastambha. Among all the kings of the Salastambha dynasty, it was Shri Harshadeva (725-750 AD) who acquitted himself as a good king. After the last king of this dynasty, Tyaga Singha (970-990), it was Brahmapala (990-1010 AD), who opened the door to a new dynasty - the Pala dynasty. Jayapala (1120-1138 AD) was the last ruler of this dynasty.
The first Mohammedan invasion (1206 &1226 AD) of Kamrupa took place during the reign of a king called Prithu who was killed in a battle with Illtutmish's son Nassiruddin in 1228. During the second invasion by Ikhtiyaruddin Yuzbak or Tughril Khan, about 1257 AD, the king of Kamrupa Saindhya (1250-1270AD) transferred the capital 'Kamrup Nagar' to Kamatapur in the west. From then onwards, Kamata's ruler was called Kamateshwar. During the last part of 14th century, Arimatta was the ruler of Gaur (the northern region of former Kamatapur) who had his capital at Vaidyagar. And after the invasion of the Mughals in the 15th century many Muslims settled in this State and can be said to be the first Muslim settlers of this region.
The population of Assam is a broad racial intermixture of Mongolian, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian and Aryan origin. The hilly tracks of Assam are mostly inhabited by the tribes of Mongolian origin. This broad racial intermixture is the native of the state of Assam, called their language and the people ``Asomiya'' or ``Assamese'' which is also the state language of Assam.
Accoring to the 1991 census, the population of Assam is 22 million, 89 percent of which is rural. Assamese-speaking Hindus represent two-thirds of the state's population and indigenous Tibeto-Burman tribal groups make up another 16 percent of the total (estimate). More than 40 percent of Assam's population is thought to be of migrant origin. The term "Assamese" is often used to refer to those who are citizens of Assam. Native Assamese, Mymenshingy settlers (from Bangladesh) and tea-garden laborers are thus included in its coverage. The term can also be used to describe the indigenous or long-settled inhabitants of this northeastern state. The language of the native people of Assam is called Assamese.
The state has the largest number of tribes within their variety in tradition, culture, dresses, and exotic way of life. Most tribes have their own languages; some of their traditions are so unique and lively that these causes wonder to others. Boro (or Kachari), Karbi, Kosh-Rajbanshi, Miri, Mishimi and Rabha are also among these tribes exhibiting variety in tradition, culture, dresses, and exotic way of life. Assamese is the principal language of the state and is regarded as the lingua franca of the whole northeast India. The Assamese language is the easternmost member of the Indo-European family. Although scholars trace the history of Assamese literature to the beginning of the second millenium AD, yet an unbroken record of literary history is traceable only from the 14th century.
During the six hundred years of ruling, the Ahom dynasty managed to keep the kingdom, independent from Mughal, the muslin invaders of India before the British, as well as other invaders though Mughal attacked Assam seventeen times. During this era, the Assamese society was exogenous. The British entered Assam in 1824 as tea planter which was the starting point of the destruction of Ahom dynasty.
Along with the British, the immigrants entered Assam from India together with their traditional believes such as caste system and dowri system. Some of the immigrants become a part of the Assamese society, and the other still practice their traditions.
A majority of the Assamese is the Vaishnavas (a sect of Hinduism). The Vaishnavas do not believe in idol worshiping and perform Namkirtana where the glory of Lord Vishnu is recited. The other religions such as Budhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam etc. are also practiced in Assam. 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. Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims represent the largest minorities, followed by Nepalis and populations from neighboring regions of India. About a quarter of the population is Muslim. Most Muslims are recent settlers from Bangladesh, although there have been some Muslims in Assam for several centuries. The older Muslims are well-integrated with the society.
Artist and sculptors, masons and architects, and others practicing minor crafts such as weavers, spinners, potters, goldsmiths, artisanns of ivory, wood, bamboo, cane and hide flourished in Assam from ancient times. Weaving is the traditional craft of the Assamese, and the women of almost every household take pride in their possession of a handloom. They use their handloom to produce silk and (or) cotton clothes of exquisite designs. The Eri, Muga and Pat are the important silk products of Assam. The scientific name given to the worms which produce the muga silk is Antehra Assam---due to the fact that these worms cannot survive in any other climates other than the climate of the Northeast. Gandhiji complimented the Assamese weavers as artists who could weave dreams in their loomes. Cultural Life The cultural life of Assam is interwoven with the acitivies of two important cultural and religious institutions: the satras (the seat of a religious head, the satradhikar) and the naamghar
(the house of names or the prayer hall). The satras hve been in existence for more than 400 years.
Most of the native population of Assam is Vaishnavite Hindu. Villagers generally associate on the basis of membership of a local center of devotional worship called "nam ghar" or "the house of names" (of God), whose members describe them as "one people" or "raij". Villages are usually made up of families from a number of distinct castes. The caste system, although it exists, is not as prominent as in other parts of India.
Among the Assamese, a form of Hinduism exists with two contrasting emphases, that of caste and sect. In caste, one finds polytheism, hierarchy, membership by birth (inherited status), collective ideas of humanity (caste groups), mediation of ritual specialists, rites conducted in Sanskrit through priests, complexity and extravagance of ritual, multiplicity of image, and salvation through knowledge or works. In sects, one finds monotheism, egalitarianism among believers, membership by invitation (acquired status), individual ideas of humanity (individual initiates), direct access to spiritual revelation, worship conducted in the verncular by the congegration, simplicity of worship, incarnation of God in the written word, and salvation through faith and mystical union.
The most important social and cultural celebrations are the three Bihu festivals observed with great enthusiasm irrespective of caste, creed and religious affinity. The Bohag Bihu, celebrated in mid-April, is the most important one. It is also known as Rangaali Bihu ("rang" means merry-making and fun). It is observed by dancing and singing in open spaces as well as in the houses. The second important Bihu, Magh Bihu, is a harvest festival celebrated in mid-January. It is celebrated with community feasts and bonfires. It is also known as the Bhogaali Bihu ("bhog" means enjoyment and feasting). The third Bihu festival is observed in mid-October. It is also known as the Kangaali Bihu ("kangaali" means poor) because by this time of the year which is before the harvest is brought home, the stock of foodgrains is low in a common man's house.
The Assamese also observe pan-Indian religious festivals such as Durga Puja, Dol-jatra or Fakuwa, Janmastami, and the Eids.
Another important aspect of the cultural life of the peopel of Assam, particularly the women, is weaving of fine silk and cotton cloths of various floral and other decorative designs.
Country : India
Continent : Asia