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A Unique Culture
Sumit Sinha | 16 Oct 2009

Assam, the most pouplated state of North- Ease, sees a very different culture

A Unique CultureAssam, the most populated state of the North- East is a broad racial intermixture of Mongolian, Indo- Burmese, Indo- Iranian and Aryan origin. The hilly state is mostly inhabited by the tribes of Mongolian origin. A majority of the Assamese, as they are called, is the Vaishnavas which is a sect of Hinduism. Other religions like Budhism, Christainity, Islam etc. are also practiced in the state. 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.The state is culturally very rich because of the assimilation of ethno- cultural groups in the past. Having a hybrid kind of culture, it is greatly influenced by events in the British and the Post- British era. Ahom dynasty in the 13th Century AD and Vaishnava movement led by Srimanta Sankardeva has also immensely contributed in the cultural change. A new wave of Western and northern Indian influence is apparent in the performing arts and literature. Even a renewed Sanskritisation has been adopted by local pundits there for developing Assamesa language and grammar.However this increasing effort of standardisation has alienated the localised forms present in different areas. But still the culture of the state, even in its hybrid form and nature, is one of the richest and developing cultures with different sub- systems. It is interesting that many source-cultures of Assamese cultural-system are still surviving either as sub-systems or as sister entities, for e.g. Bodo or Khasi or Mishing. The state has rich tradition of performing arts. Traditional Vaishnav dance- drama forms like Ankiya Nat, popular since 15th Century, make use of large masks of god, goddess, demons, animals and it also features a Sutradhar in between. One of the major folk dances in the state is Bihu dance which is performed there in many occasions. Even the tradition of modern moving theatres is typical of Assam with immense popularity of large theatre groups such as Kohinoor, Apsara etc.The success of artists like Bhupen Hazarika, Anima Choudhury, Khagen Mahanta and many others belonging to the state is also because of the indigenous folk music. This has also affected the new generation, the likes of Zubeen Garg and Jitul Sonowal.The state is also very rich in crafts and has got an advantage over others in making boats, traditional guns and building materials. Major traditions in craft include silk and cotton weaving, jewellery making, musical instruments making etc.Festivals are very close to the heart of Assamese. 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 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. The third Bihu festival is observed in mid-October. It is also known as the Kangaali Bihu 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