From Assam’s tribal communities and autonomous councils coming together to showcase their life to homemade liquor to folk dance and much more was part of the recently held Rongali Festival in Guwahati. SANGEETA YADAV brings you a glimpse of the rich culture and tradition from this region
Traditional boat race, local beer and tribal communities that have a rich culture are the three tenets of Assam which its tourism department is selling at the Rongali Festival in Guwahati. Organised by Shyamkanu Mahanta, who is also the man behind North-East Festival in Delhi and Mumbai, the three-day festival brought everyone together to showcase the best of the best the State.
“There were a lot of concerns about the relationship between Assamese speaking people and other communities like the Bodos, Karbis, Dimasa etc. But now all of them have come together here. Assam is now safe and connectivity has improved with other States. Through Rongali, we want to create good vibes, love and rock and roll in the society bringing out our rich heritage,” Mahanta says. The overall budget of the festival was Rs 1.60 lakh.
Unity in Diversity
The second season of the festival boasts of unity in diversity among different tribes like Bodos, Mising, Karbi, Dimasa, Tiwa, Sonowal Kachari, Singphoh, Deuri, Tai Phake, Thengal Kachari and Ahom. Each district in Assam has around 20 tribe and non-tribe communities. A major attraction was the oldest group — Deshi Community. Also known as Goalparia, the community settled down in lower Assam before the Ahom dynasty. Their history can be traced back to 1204 AD when Mech king, Ali Mech, converted to Islam from Koch-Rajbongshis.
Ashiq Zaman, who exhibited their traditional quake resistant bamboo hut, said: “Deshis speak the Goalpariya dialect which is known for its rich folksongs popularised by the legendary Pratima Barua. Though the Deshis are Muslims, they follow many customs similar to the Rajbongshi communities like celebration of Beshoma (Rongali Bihu), Puishne (Bhogali Bihu), using sindoor during wedding ceremony and observing Amaati during ambubachi of Kamakhya Temple. The Deshi culture is a true expression of the composite culture of Bar-Axom,” he added.
Each community speaks multiple dialects, has traditional costumes, celebrates different festivals, cuisines, folk art and culture, music and dance forms.
Meanwhile, the Tai Ahom or the priests of Mohan Deodhai Bailung Sanmilon, dating back to 1200 AD, carved mantras on bamboo bark and silk cloth which are preserved by local astrologers who use it even now to predict the future and give out health remedies. These manuscripts are only available with the local priests.
Celebration in Assam is incomplete without homegrown beer made of rice and herbs, fermented and stored for years. Rongali, which was also promoting the liquor tourism of Assam, had a variety of local beers on shelves. One such popular brand is Judima brewed by the Dimasas and served in bamboo cups.
“Tourism can be the vehicle for transforming the livelihood of people. We like to promote tourism through our communities and promotion of the products which are unexplored till now by outsiders. For the first time, the festival promoted Dimasa as a destination. Apart from having three highest peaks of Assam and Onrong, the biggest artificial water reserve, we are famous for Judima. It’s made in every household by women and can be preserved for years. The State Government is formulating a policy to regulate it brewery and export it to other States,” Kulendra Daulajupu, executive member, tourism and education, Dimasa district, tells you.
Another popular liquor is Sai Mod from the Mising community. “There are two varieties of Sai Mod. One is made from white rice and the other from black rice. Though you will find white beer everywhere, the other variety is our speciality,” Biswajit Bholey, a community member, explains.
On the banks of the Brahmaputra, amid green mountains, you can indulge in parasailing for that adrenaline rush. The magnificent view of the mountains makes it extra special.
“Adventure sport is another major area we are looking at. The trends is picking up, especially after the launch of Aerosports Association of Assam last year. The Brahmaputra in the Noonmati region has huge sand dunes and it’s the best place for aerosports. The aim is to make the river an aerosport destination and a four-month activity — from December to February. But it is costly and we are looking for Government’s support in this to make it commercially viable,” Mohanta tells you.
Then there is the traditional boat race at the Dighali Pukhuri. The race was organised in association with Directorate of Sports, Government of Assam and Assam Traditional Sports and Dragon Boat Association. The best part about the race is that it’s not only a men’s sport but girls too can participate.
The three-day festival also showcased around 35 traditional folk dances and mask presentations. One such dance drama was a 500-year-old Kaliya Daman (Kathak), also known as Ankia Bhaona, directed by Sattriya exponent Dr Nirupoma Mahanta. The evening saw rocking performances by popular DJ Nucleya, Bollywood singer Ash King, top rapper Divine, London-based singer Arjun, the North-East’s top rock band Alobo Naga and Assamese hearthrobs Zubeen Garg and Joi Baruah.
(The article also got published in Pioneer Newspaper, – http://www.dailypioneer.com/sunday-edition/sunday-pioneer/backpack/rongali-revelry.html).