Culture and Tradition in Perfect Harmony- The Folk Dances of Assam

It is often said that folk dance is the best manifestation of the culture and tradition of a particular place. The best example to this statement can be seen in the various ethnic dance forms that are prevalent in the different corners of Assam.  Assam, the tea garden of India, has a rich culture to boast of. The State of Assam is home to many groups: Mongoloid, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian, Aryan, Rabha, Bodo, Kachari, Karbi, Mising, Sonowal Kacharis, Mishimi and Tiwa (Lalung). These cultures come together to create an unique Assamese culture.

 

An integral part of Assamese culture are the folk dances of the State. Assam has a number of folk dances and the most important among them are the Bagurumba dance and the  Bihu dance, both danced during festivals held in the spring.

 

Bagurumba Dance

 

The chief among the Assamese folk dances is the Bagurumba or the ‘butterfly dance’.  It owes its name to the fact that the movements of the performers resemble those of butterflies. It is commonly performed by the Bodos of Assam who live in regions like Kokrajhar, Nalbari and Bongaigaon. This dance is the chief highlight of their Bwishagu festival which is celebrated in mid-April. The celebrations begin with cow worship which is then followed by the young ones of the family bowing down to their parents and the other elders in the home. Then the deity, known as Bathou, is worshipped with offerings of chicken and rice beer. Bathou is the supreme deity of the Bodos. The festivities are then concluded with a community prayer.

 

The dance is performed by the girls dressed in colorful costumes and traditional jewellery while the men play the accompanying musical instruments. These are the traditional tribal devices such as the Gongona which resembles a curved horn and the Kham which is a long drum made of wood and goatskin. The other instruments include the Siphung which resembles a violin. The dance is performed with slow steps and hands spread out. The performers go through various movements such as hopping, swinging, bending and rising again. They chant ‘bagurumba, hay bagurumba’ while dancing. This highly attractive dance symbolizes the natural world.  There are two variations of this dance form. One is the Natural Bagurumba which is performed without music while the other is the Royal Bagurumba which is accompanied along with singing.

 

Bihu Folk Dance

 

Another major folk dance associated with Assam is the Bihu.  It is performed during the Rongali Bihu festival which falls in the middle of April. The Rongali Bihu is one of the three Bihu festivals, the other two being Kongali Bihu and Bhogali Bihu. The songs sung during the Rongali Bihu festival are based on romantic themes. The Bihu dance is performed by both men and women. The men are attired in dhotis which are long and thin pieces of cloth worn around the waist. The head is adorned by the gamocha. Both the dhoti and the gamocha are not only brightly colored but are also embellished by beautiful embroidery in various designs on the two ends. The women Bihu performers are attired in the traditional Assamese costume. This attire consists of the Chador and Mekhela. The Chador is a drape used for covering the upper portion of the body while the Mekhela which is shaped like a cylinder is used for the lower half of the body. A blouse is worn below the Chador. Pat silk, cotton and muga silk are used for making these dresses. Their attire is completed with colorful jewellery and their hair is done up with pretty flowers which match the colour of their dresses.

 

The Bihu is a brisk dance with the performers flinging their hands and swaying their hips to a rhythmic beat. It represents youthful passion. As with every other folk dance, music is a must for the Bihu too. The instruments are essential for playing the conventional tunes for the dance. These include the dhol, pepa, taal, toka, xutuli, gogona and baanhi. This art form has remained untouched by any innovation and has retained its purity. The Bihu dance truly represents the culture and heritage of the Assamese people.

 

The Khamba Lim is another folk dance of Assam. The performers include two groups of men and women who stand in two rows. The folk dances are performed during the harvest period. They are marked by absolute gaiety and abandon.

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