4 Distinct and Invaluable Symbols of Assamese Culture
What makes one region so distinctly different from the other? Apart from the topography and the geography, what makes a state so unique are the people- their culture and traditions. The advertisements depicting Assam do not even come close to the beauty of my home state. These cultural insignias mark the journey of a magnificent civilization.
Although it a piece of woven but unstitched cloth, it holds special significance for the people of Assam. It is offered to elders as a mark of respect and to younger ones as a token of love. It is generally woven with white cotton yarn with beautiful red motifs and patterns. But for special occasions, the Gamosa could also be silk based. Loosely translated, Gamosa means to wipe the body. On festivals and other important occasions, I have seen my parents scour for the most magnificent Gamosa to offer to their elders. It also held pride of place in the shrine at our home.
Traditionally, the ‘Jaapi’- a kind of a hat was used by the farmers working in the paddy fields. It is usually made with ‘tokow paat’ or dried palm leaves, held together by thin bamboo strips. Apart from its utilitarian aspects, it is also a part of Assamese cultural symbolism. Beautifully adorned Jaapis can be found in most homes and an integral part of presenting the significance to others.
Xorai means an offering tray. It is circular in shape and is mounted on a stand. It is usually made of bell metal and can be with or without a pointed cover. In many religious ceremonies, the offerings to the deity are made on a Xorai. It is also used to express gratitude and welcome to others with ‘tamul-pan’ (betel nut and betel leaves) inside it. Traditionally, invitations to important occasions like weddings or events are extended by an offering of ‘tamul-pan’ in a Xorai and requesting the invitee to accept.
The Assamese people are quite fond of tamul-paan which is fermented betel nut and betel leaves respectively. They love a dash of lime and sometimes a little black tobacco to go with it. But it has cultural and religious connotations as well. No religious ceremony is complete without an offering to the deity. It is also mandatory to serve ‘tamul-paan’ at other cultural occasions and feasts, not only as a palate cleanser but also as a way of bonding. It is considered rude if an offering of tamul-pan is not made on a ‘Bota’, which is like a miniature version of the Xorai.
The culture of every region is like the evolution. New things are added to the process and sometimes older practices are done away with. The Assamese culture has succeeded in holding rituals and things close to their heart. They deserve to be discovered by people who aren’t very familiar with the state. The beauty, they say, lies in the eyes of the beholder.