Assamese People and Their Culture

Author: Darshika Chettri
Date: 2019-12-12

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Assam, a state in Northeast India, is a meeting ground of diverse cultures with a strong potential in tourism. The people of Assam are a mixture of various racial and ethnic groups who came from different places such as Mongoloid, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian and Aryan. The culture of Assam is a rich and exotic cocktail of all these races evolved through a long assimilative process through generations.
The culture of Assam is traditionally a hybrid one which has been developed due to the cultural assimilation of different ethno-cultural groups coming together from different places under various political-economic systems in different periods of history. 

The roots of the culture in Assam, which is a big selling point in the tourism industry, go back to almost five thousand years ago, when the first cultural assimilation took place between the Austro-asiatic and the Bodo-Kachari groups. Overall, there were three waves of cultural assimilation in Assam. Firstly, it was the Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups which had arrived from places like Tibet, Yunnan and Sinchuan provinces of China who mixed with the scarcely present aboriginal Austric people like the Khasi and Jaintia. Next, there was a wave of Indo-Aryans from places in Northern India, which was responsible for bringing the Vedic culture into Assam. They mixed with the Tantric culture of the Bodo-Kachari people. The last wave of migration was that of the Tai-Ahoms(Tai/Shan) who added another big chapter to the history and culture of Assam. The Ahoms later on brought some more Indo-Aryans like the Assamese Brahmins, Ganaks and Kayasthas to Assam.

According to the Hindu epic Mahabharata and on the basis of local folklore, people of Assam (Kiratas) lived as part of a strong kingdom in the Himalayas in the era before Jesus Christ, which is what led to an early assimilation of various Tibeto-Burman and Autro-asiatic ethnic groups on a much larger scale. The typical naming of the rivers and the spatial distribution of related ethno-cultural groups also support this theory. Thereafter, western migrations of Indo-Aryans such as those of various branches of Irano-Scythians and Nordics along with mixed northern Indians (the ancient cultural mix that had already been present in the northern Indian states in places such as Magadha) enriched the aboriginal culture and under certain stronger politico-economic systems, Sanskritisation and Hinduisation intensified and became prominent in the culture of Assam. Such an assimilated culture therefore carries many elements of various source cultures, of which the exact roots are difficult to trace and are a matter for research in exploring tourism in Assam. However, in each of the elements of Assamese culture, i.e. language, traditional crafts, performing arts, festivities and beliefs, either indigenous local elements or the indigenous local elements in a Sanskritised forms are always present.