Assam

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Assam

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Population : 26,655,528 (14th)

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Assam

Capital : Dispur
Largest city : Guwahati
District(s) : 25
Population : 26,655,528 (14th)
Density : 340/km² (881/sq mi)
Language(s) : Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Mishing, Karbi
Governor : Ajai Singh
Chief Minister : Tarun Gogoi
Established : 1947-08-15 (Assam had a legislature since 1937)

Assam is a north eastern state of India with its capital at Dispur, a suburb of the city Guwahati. Assam along with other North-eastern states of India (also known as seven-sisters) was the only independent part of todays India which never was a part of India before the area came under British rule. Located south of the eastern Himalayas, Assam comprises the Brahmaputra and the Barak river valleys and the Karbi Anglong and the North Cachar Hills. With an area of 78,438 square kilometres (30,285 sq mi) Assam currently is almost equivalent to the size of Ireland or Austria. Assam is surrounded by the rest of the Seven Sister States: Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya. These states are connected to the rest of India via a narrow strip in West Bengal called the “Chicken’s Neck”. Assam also shares international borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh; and cultures, peoples and climate with South-East Asia—important elements in India’s Look East Policy.

Assam Tea Assam is known for Assam tea, petroleum resources, Assam silk and for its rich biodiversity. It has successfully conserved the one-horned Indian rhinoceros from near extinction in Kaziranga, the tiger in Manas and provides one of the last wild habitats for the Asian elephant. It is increasingly becoming a popular destination for wild-life tourism and notably Kaziranga and Manas are both World Heritage Sites. Assam was also known for its Sal tree forests and forest products, much depleted now. A land of high rainfall, Assam is endowed with lush greenery and the mighty river Brahmaputra, whose tributaries and oxbow lakes provide the region with a unique hydro-geomorphic and aesthetic environment.

Physical geography

Assam Valley and EnvironsGeologically, as per the plate techtonics, Assam is in the eastern most projection of the Indian Plate, where it is thrusting underneath the Eurasian Plate creating a subduction zone.[6] It is postulated that due to the northeasterly movement of the Indian plate, the sediment layers of an ancient geocyncline called Tethys (in between Indian and Eurasian Plates) have been pushed upwardly to form the Himalayas. It is estimated that the height of the Himalayas is increasing around 4 cm each year. Therefore, Assam possesses a unique geomorphic environment, with plain areas, dissected hills of the South Indian Plateau system and with the Himalayas all around its north, north-east and east.

Geomorphic studies conclude that the Brahmaputra is a paleo-river, older than the Himalayas, which often crosses higher altitudes in the Himalayas and sustaining its flow by eroding at a greater pace than the increase in the height of the mountain range. The heights of the surrounding regions are still increasing to form steep gorges in Arunachal. Entering Assam, the Brahmaputra becomes a braided river and along with its tributaries, creates the flood plain of the Brahmaputra Valley The Brahmaputra Valley in Assam is approximately 80 to 100 km wide and almost 1000 km long and the width of the river itself is 16 km at many places.

The hills of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar and those in and around Guwahati and North Guwahati (along with the Khasi and Garo Hills) are originally parts of the South Indian Plateau system. These are eroded and dissected by the numerous rivers in the region. Average height of these hills in Assam varies from 300 to 400mt. The southern Barak Valley is separated by the Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills from the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam. The Barak originates from the Barail Range in the border areas of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur and flowing through the district of Cachar, it confluences with the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh. Barak Valley in Assam is a small valley with an average width and length of approximately 40 to 50 km.

Assam is endowed with petroleum, natural gas, coal, limestone and many other minor minerals such as magnetic quartzite, kaolin, sillimanites, clay and feldspar. A small quantity of iron ore is also available in western parts of Assam. The Upper Assam districts are the major reserves of oil and gas. Petroleum was discovered in Assam in 1889. A recent USGS estimate shows approximately 399 million barrels of oil, 1178 billion cubic feet of gas and 67 million barrels of natural gas liquids in Assam Geologic Province. With the ‘Tropical Monsoon Rainforest Climate’, Assam is a temperate region and experiences heavy rainfall and high humidity. Winter lasts from late October to late February. The minimum temperature is 6 to 8 degrees Celsius. Nights and early mornings are foggy, and rain is scanty. Summer starts in mid May, accompanied by high humidity and rainfall. The maximum temperature is 35 to 38 degrees Celsius, but the frequent rain reduces this. The peak of the monsoons is during June. Thunderstorms known as Bordoicila are frequent during the afternoons. Spring and Autumn with moderate temperatures and modest rainfall are the most comfortable seasons. Assam is one of the richest biodiversity zones in the world. There are number of tropical rainforests in Assam. Moreover, there are riverine grasslands, bamboo orchards and numerous wetland ecosystems. Many of these areas have been protected by developing national parks and reserved forests. The Kaziranga and Manas are the two World Heritage Sites. The Kaziranga is the home for the rare Indian Rhinoceros, while Manas is a tiger sanctuary. Moreover, there are numerous other valuable and rare wildlife and plant species available in Assam. Few of the rarest species are the Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei), the White-winged Wood Duck or Deuhnah (Cairina scultulata), the Golden Cat, etc. The Hoolock Gibbon in Assam is the only ape found in South Asia. Assam is also known for orchids. The region is also prone to natural disasters. High rainfall, deforestation, and other factors have resulted in annual floods that cause widespread loss of life, livelihood and property. The region is also prone to earthquakes. Mild tremors are familiar, and strong earthquakes are rare. There have been three strong earthquakes: in 1869 the bank of the Barak sank by 15 ft; 1897 (8.1 on the Richter scale); and 1950 (8.6).

Pre-history and myths

Assam and adjoining regions have evidence of human settlement from all periods of the Stone ages. That the known hills settlements belonged to earlier periods may suggest that the valleys were populated later, or it may reflect sampling bias due to mountainous areas being more likely to remain less disturbed over long stretches of time.

The earliest ruler according to legend was Mahiranga (sanskritized form of the Tibeto-Burman name Mairang). He was followed by others in his line: Hatak, Sambar, Ratna and Ghatak. Naraka removed this line of rulers and established his own dynasty. The Naraka king mentioned at various places in Kalika Purana, Mahabharata and Ramayana covering a wide period of time were probably different rulers from the same dynasty. Kalika Purana, a Sanskrit text compiled in Assam in the 9th and 10th century, mentions that the last of the Naraka-bhauma rulers, Narak, was slain by Krishna. His son Bhagadatta, mentioned in the Mahabharata, fought for the Kauravas in the battle of Kurushetra with an army of kiratas, chinas and dwellers of the eastern coast. Later rulers of Kamarupa frequently drew their lineage from the Naraka rulers.

Languages

Assamese and Bodo are the major indigenous and official languages of the state while Bengali holds official status in particular districts in the Barak Valley. Traditionally Assamese was the language of the commons (of mixed origin – Bodo, Khasi, Sanskrit, Magadhan Prakrit) of the ancient kingdoms such as Kamrupa and medieval kingdoms of Kamatapur, Kachari, Cuteeya, Borahi, Ahom and Koch. Traces of the language can be found in many poems in Charyapada written by Luipa, Sarahapa, etc during the period of the Xalostombho / Salastambha dynasty (7th/8th century AD) of Kamarupa Kingdom. Modern Kamrupi dialect is the remnant of this language. Moreover, Assamese in its ancient and medieval form was used by almost every ethno-cultural group as the lingua-franca of the region. Probably the language was then required for needed economic integration and was also probably spread through the stronger and larger politico-economic systems such as that of the ancient Kamrupa. Traditional and localised forms of this language still exist in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, North Bengal, Kacar (Cachar) and in Southern Assam (similarities with Chittagonian language in present-day Bangladesh exists). The form used in the upper Assam was enriched by contributions from many eastern immigrations such as of those of Tai-Ahoms and others beginning from 13th century onwards.

Linguistically modern Assamese traces its roots to the version developed by the American Missionaries based on the local form in practice near Xiwoxagor/Sibsagar district. Assamese or Oxomeeya (as called in Assam) is a rich language due to its hybrid nature with its unique characteristics of pronunciation and softness. Assamese literature is one of the richest. The constitution of India recognises it as a major language of Republic of India.Bodo is the ancient language of Assam and is mother of majority of the present day languages and dialects within the state and also in surrounding areas. Looking at the spatial distribution patterns of related ethno-cultural groups and their cultural traits and also phenomenon such as of naming all the major rivers in the North East Region with original Bodo words (e.g. Dihing, Dibru, Dihong, D/Tista, Dikrai, etc) it is understood that it was the most important language in the North East India in the ancient times, where history yet haven’t opened its gates. Bodo is presently spoken largely in the Lower Assam areas mostly under the areas of Bodo Territorial Council. During past few decades (after years of neglect) it is fortunate that Bodo as a language is getting attention and much care is being taken for development of Bodo literature.

Assam is also rich with several native languages such as Mishing, Karbi, Dimaca, Rabha, Tiwa, etc of Tibeto-Burman origin and are closely related to Bodo. There are also small groups of people in different part of Assam with languages such as Tai-Phake, Tai-Aiton, Tai-Khamti, etc related to Tai-group of languages of Southern China and South East Asia. The Tai-Ahom language (brought by Sukaphaa and his followers) is now fortunately getting attentions for wide-spread research after centuries long care and preservation by the Bailungs (traditional priests), which is no more a spoken language for commons today. There are also small groups of people speaking Manipuri, Khasi, Garo, Hmar, Kuki, etc in different parts of Assam.In the past century migration of Bengalis to the medieval kingdom of Kacar (of Kocaries) in the Barak Valley has led to their majority, prompting the government of Assam to include Bengali as the official language in the Barak Valley districts.

Tradition and culture

Assamese culture is traditionally a hybrid one, developed due to cultural assimilation of different ethno-cultural groups under various politico-economic systems in different periods of pre-history and history. The roots of the culture go back to almost two thousand years when the first cultural assimilation took place with Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman as the major components.Thereafter, western migrations such as those of various branches of Mediterraneans, Indo-scythians /Irano-scythians 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.

Assamese culture

  • Assimilation under the great dynasties of Pragjyotisha-Kamrupa for almost 700 years (Varman dynasty for 300 years, Mlechchha dynasty for 200 years and Pala dynasty for another 200 years) in the first millennium AD.

  • Advent of Ahom dynasty in the 13th century AD and establishment of the Ahom politico-eonomic system and cultural assimilation for next 600 years.

  • Assimilation under the Koch Kingdom (15th-16th century AD) of western Assam and Kachari Kingdom (12th-18th century AD) of central and southern Assam.

  • Vaishnava Movement led by Srimanta Sankardeva (Xonkordeu) and its contribution and cultural changes.

  • 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 Baptist Missionaries such as Nathan Brown, Dr. Miles Bronson and local pundits such as Hemchandra Barua 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.

    Assamese culture in its true sense today is a ‘cultural system’ comprised of different sub-systems. It is more interesting to note that even many of the source-cultures of Assamese culture are still surviving either as sub-systems or as sister entities. In broader sense, therefore, the Assamese cultural system incorporates its source-cultures such as Bodo (Boro) or Khasi or Mishing (Micing) but individual development of these sub-systems are today becoming important. However, it is also important to keep the broader system closer to its roots.

Pre-history and myths

Assam and adjoining regions have evidence of human settlement from all periods of the Stone ages. That the known hills settlements belonged to earlier periods may suggest that the valleys were populated later, or it may reflect sampling bias due to mountainous areas being more likely to remain less disturbed over long stretches of time.

The earliest ruler according to legend was Mahiranga (sanskritized form of the Tibeto-Burman name Mairang). He was followed by others in his line: Hatak, Sambar, Ratna and Ghatak. Naraka removed this line of rulers and established his own dynasty. The Naraka king mentioned at various places in Kalika Purana, Mahabharata and Ramayana covering a wide period of time were probably different rulers from the same dynasty. Kalika Purana, a Sanskrit text compiled in Assam in the 9th and 10th century, mentions that the last of the Naraka-bhauma rulers, Narak, was slain by Krishna. His son Bhagadatta, mentioned in the Mahabharata, fought for the Kauravas in the battle of Kurushetra with an army of kiratas, chinas and dwellers of the eastern coast. Later rulers of Kamarupa frequently drew their lineage from the Naraka rulers.

Music

Assam, being the home to many ethnic groups and different cultures, is very rich in folk music. The indigenous folk music has in turn influenced the growth of a modern idiom, that finds expression in the music of such artists like Bhupen Hazarika, Anima Choudhury Nirmalendu Choudhury & Utpalendu Choudhury, Luit Konwar Rudra Baruah, Parvati Prasad Baruva, Jayanta Hazarika, Khagen Mahanta among many others. Among the new generation, Zubeen Garg, Jitul Sonowal and Angaraag Mahanta have a great fan following.

Traditional crafts

Assam has maintained a rich tradition of various traditional crafts for more than two thousand years. Presently, Cane and bamboo craft, bell metal and brass craft, silk and cotton weaving, toy and mask making, pottery and terracotta work, wood craft, jewellery making, musical instruments making, etc remained as major traditions.[32] Historically, Assam also excelled in making boats, traditional guns and gunpowder, ivory crafts, colours and paints, articles of lac, traditional building materials, utilities from iron, etc.

Cane and bamboo craft provide the most commonly used utilities in daily life, ranging from household utilities, weaving accessories, fishing accessories, furniture, musical instruments to building construction materials. Traditional utilities and symbolic articles made from bell metal and brass are found in every Assamese household.[33][34] The Xorai and bota have been in use for centuries to offer gifts to respected persons and are two prominent symbolic elements. Hajo and Sarthebari / Xorthebaary are the most important centres of traditional bell-metal and brass crafts. Assam is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent and prestigious being Muga, the natural golden silk is exclusive only to Assam. Apart from Muga, there are other two varieties called Pat, a creamy-bright-silver coloured silk and Eri, a variety used for manufacturing warm clothes for winter. Apart from Sualkuchi / Xualkuchi, the centre for the traditional silk industry, in almost every parts of the Brahmaputra Valley, rural households produce silk and silk garments with excellent embroidery designs. Moreover, various ethno-cultural groups in Assam make different types of cotton garments with unique embroidery designs and wonderful colour combinations.

Moreover, Assam possesses unique crafts of toy and mask making mostly concentrated in the Vaishnav Monasteries, pottery and terracotta work in lower Assam districts and wood craft, iron craft, jewellery, etc in many places across the region.

Paintings

Painting is an ancient tradition of Assam. The ancient practices can be known from the accounts of the Chinese traveller Xuanzang (7th century CE). The account mentions that Bhaskaravarma, the king of Kamarupa has gifted several items to Harshavardhana, the king of Magadha including paintings and painted objects, some of which were on Assamese silk. Many of the manuscripts available from the Middle Ages bear excellent examples of traditional paintings. The most famous of such medieval works are available in the Hastividyarnava (A Treatise on Elephants), the Chitra Bhagawata and in the Gita Govinda. The medieval painters used locally manufactured painting materials such as the colours of hangool and haital. The medieval Assamese literature also refers to chitrakars and patuas. Traditional Assamese paintings have been influenced by the motifs and designs in the medieval works such as the Chitra Bhagawata.

There are several renowned contemporary painters in Assam. The Guwahati Art College in Guwahati is a government institution for tertiary education. Moreover, there are several art-societies and non-government initiatives across the state and the Guwahati Artists Guild is a front-runner organisation based in Guwahati.

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