A S S A M
|In many ways the foremost of the seven units coprising India´s North-East, Assam is also more or less centrally located in the region. It is bounded by Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh on the north, Nagaland and Manipur on the east, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura on the south and south-west, and Bangladesh and West Bengal on the west.
The total area of the state is 78,523 square kilometres. The long and narrow Brahmaputra valley, also called the Assam Valley, stretches across the state from east to west while the small BarakValley froms its southern adjunce, the two hills districts - North Cachar and Karbi Anglong - lying in between. The population figure in 1991 census is 22,294,562.
Assam has had links with Aryan civilization and culture since ancient times. Known by the names Pragjyotisha and Kamarupa, the land finds frequent mention in ancient literature, particularly in the epics and the Puranas. Narakasura, Bhagadatta and Bhaskarvarman were kings of ancient Assam who are known to have played significant roles in the political and socio-cultural history of India. While there had been migration of hordes of Aryan settlers at different times, the indigenous population had also come under influence of Aryan religio-cultural mores and modes, giving rise in the process to a very interesting sythesis of Aryan and indigenous strains
In the medieval period, different parts of Assam were under the Chutiyas, the Barahis, the Bhuyans and other chieftains. But the later there arose two very strong ruling powers, the Ahoms of Tai-Shan affiliation originally came here as invaders but soon became completely indigenized, and their uninterrupted 600 year rule not only gave the land its present name but also played a signal role in forging its social and cultural unification. The Koches played a similar role int he western parts of the land helping not only in political consolidation but also in socio-religious and artistic afflorescence.
At present the bulk of the indigenous population made up of Assamese Hindus among the Indo-Mongoloid or Kirata element is visibly strong in terms of both racial strains and cultural traits, although scholars have also discerned certain Austric and Dravidian ingredients. Various tribal communities - now at different levels of acculturation, integration and assimilation vis-a-vis the Assamese Hindu society - live in the hills and plains, the chief among them being the Karbis, the Dimasa-Dacharis, the Zeme Nagas and the Kukis in the hills, and the Bodo-Kacharis, the Misings, the Rabhas, the Tiwas (Lalungs) and the Deuris in the plains. Although Saivasim and Saktism have had strong roots here, neo-Vaishanvism with a wonderful spirit of liberalisation and synthesis was ushered in under the unique leadership of Sankardeva (1449-1568), and its influence on the population has since been both pervasive and abiding. The local Muslim population is also sizeable in proportiong and their place in, and contribution to, the composite socio-cultural milieu is quite significant and considerable. While there is a small but significant Assamese Sikh community, Christianity had been adopted by a section of the local population, particularly among the tribal groups.
|The highlights of Assam are:
• Kamakshya temple at Gauhati
• The hill districts (North Cachar and Karbi Anglong)
• Sibsagar Temple district
• Kaziranga National Park
All these highlights and more are the subject of two books by Peter van Ham:
THE SEVEN SISTERS OF INDIA
Tribal Worlds Between Tibet And Burma
THE HIDDEN WORLD OF THE NAGA
Living Traditions In Northeast India And Burma
on Northeast India:
ARUNACHAL PRADESH, NAGALAND, MANIPUR, MIZORAM, TRIPURA, MEGHALAYA,
Christoph von Fuerer-Haimendorf
& Verrier Elwin