Assamese culture is traditionally a hybrid one developed due to assimilation of ethno-cultural groups in the past. Therefore, both local elements or the local elements in Sanskritised forms are distinctly found. The major milestones in evolution of Assamese culture are:
- Assimilation in the Kamarupa Kingdom for almost 700 years
- Establishment of the Ahom dynasty in the 13th century AD and assimilation for next 600 years.
- Assimilation in the Koch Kingdom of western Assam and Kachari Kingdom of central and southern Assam.
- Vaishnava Movement led by Srimanta Shankardeva (Xonkordeu) and its contribution and cultural changes. Vaishanav Movement, the 15th century religio-cultural movement under the leadership of great Srimanta Sankardeva (Xonkordeu) and his disciples have provided another dimension to Assamese culture.
Assam is a land of fairs and festivals. Most of the festivals celebrated in Assam characterize the spirit of accommodation and togetherness in the diverse faith and belief of her inhabitants. Bihu is the most important and common and celebrated all over Assam. other major festivals celebrated in Assam are Baishagu, Ali-Ai-Ligang, Baikho, Rongker, Rajini Gabra Harni Gabra, Bohaggiyo Bishu, Ambubashi Mela and Jonbill Mela.
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.
There are Three Bihus are celebrated in a year:
- 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
- Magh Bihu which marks the season of harvesting of grains.
Symbolism is an important part of Assamese culture. Various elements are being used to represent beliefs, feelings, pride, identity, etc. Symbolism is an ancient cultural practice in Assam, which is still very important for the people. Three important symbolic elements of Assamese culture are:
Tamulpan (the areca nut and betel leaves) or guapan (gua from kwa) are considered as the offers of devotion, respect and friendship. It is an ancient tradition and is being followed since time-immemorial with roots in the aboriginal Austro-Asiatic culture.
Xorai being a traditional symbol of Assam is a manufactured bell-metal object and an article of great respect and is used as a container-medium while performing respectful offers.It simplistic term,it is an offering tray with a stand at the bottom.There are xorais with or without a cover on the top. Xorais are used: As an offering tray for tamul-pan(betel nuts and betel leaves) to guests as a sign of welcome and thanks. As an offering tray for food and other items placed in front of the altar(naamghar)for blessing by the Lord. As a decorative symbol in traditional functions such as during Bihu dances. As a gift to a person of honour during felicitations.
The Gamosa is an article of great significance for the people of Assam. Literally translated, it means ‘something to wipe the body with’ (Ga=body, mosa=to wipe); interpreting the word “gamosa” as the body-wiping towel is misleading. It is generally a white rectangular piece of cloth with primarily a red border on three sides and red woven motifs on the fourth (in addition to red, other colors are also used). Guests are welcomed with the offering of a gamosa and tamul (betel nut) and elders are offered gamosas (bihuwaan) during Bihu. It is used to cover the altar at the prayer hall or cover the scriptures. An object of reverence is never placed on the bare ground, but always on a gamosa. One can therefore, very well say, that the gamosa symbolizes the life and culture of Assam.
Dance and Music
Assam has rich tradition of performing arts. Ankiya Nat (Onkeeya Naat) is a traditional Vaishnav dance-drama (Bhaona) form popular since 15th century AD It makes use of large masks of gods, goddesses, demons and animals and in between the plays a Sutradhar (Xutrodhar) keeps on telling the story. The Bihu dance and Hucory performed during the Bohag Bihu, Kushan nritra of Rajbongshi’s, Bagurumba and Bordoicikhla dance of Bodos, Mishing Bihu, Banjar Kekan performed during Chomangkan by Karbis are some of the major folk dances. Sattriya (Xotriya) dance related to Vaishnav tradition is a classical form of dance.
The indigenous folk music has substantially influenced the growth of a modern idiom, that finds expression in the music of such artists like Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, Bishnuprasad Rabha, Parvati Prasad Baruva, Bhupen Hazarika, Pratima Barua Pandey, Anima Choudhury, Luit Konwar Rudra Baruah, Jayanta Hazarika, Khagen Mahanta, Deepali Borthakur, “Ganashilpi” Dilip Sarma, Sudakshina Sarma among many others. Among the new generation, Zubeen Garg, Jitul Sonowal, Angaraag Mahanta and Joi Barua have a great fan following.
Assamese and Bodo are the major indigenous and official languages while Bengali holds official status in the three districts in the Barak Valley and is the second most widely spoken language of the state
Nepali is also spoken in almost all parts of the state. Bengali is the official language in Barak Valley, although the widely spoken language is Sylheti, a dialect of Bengali. Bengali is also largely spoken in the western districts of Dhubri, Barpeta, and Goalpara. Santali or Santhali is also spoken widely by the tribal population in the tea garden districts of Assam. Bishnupriya Manipuri language is also spoken by a small minority of people in Barak Valley.
There are also small groups of people speaking Manipuri, Khasi, Garo, Hmar, Kuki, Zeme Naga etc., some of the Tai languages, in different parts.
Arts and crafts
Painting is an ancient tradition of Assam. Xuanzang (7th century AD) mentions that among the Kamarupa king Bhaskaravarma’s gifts to Harshavardhana there were paintings and painted objects, some of which were on Assamese silk.
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 are remained as major traditions.
List Major traditional jewelleries of Assamese: Dugdugi, Kerumoni, Thuriya, Gaam Kharu, Muthi Kharu, Jonbiri, Dholbiri
There are several renowned contemporary artists 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.