Assam (Asom) State Information
Capital : Dispur
Languages: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo & Karbi
Introduction to Assam
Assam has a unique landscape with sprawling tea gardens and unending stretches of paddy fields interspersed with groves of coconut, areca nuts, and banana trees.
Its population is a confluence of streams of different races and tribes like the Austrics, the Aryans, Negroids, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Tibetans, and Mongoloid. They have enriched each other and have evolved to give a distinctive identity to the Assamese people.
Geography of Assam
Assam is located at the gateway of Northeast India, Assam is separated by Bangladesh from mainstream India.
The state is bounded in the north by Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan; in the east by Nagaland, Manipur, and Burma; in the south by Bangladesh, Tripura, Mizoram, and Bangladesh; and in the west by West Bengal.
Assam can be broadly divided into three distinct physical units, the Brahmaputra Valley in the north, the Barak Valley in the narrow protruding south, and the state’s hilly region separating the two valleys.
Brief History of Assam
The region of Assam was mentioned by the Chinese explorer Chang Kien of having trade links with China in 100 B.C. The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea and Ptolemy’s Geography also acknowledge the existence of this state before Christ. The Australoids or the pre-Dravidians were the earliest inhabitants of this state. But, it were the Mongoloids who entered the land through the eastern mountainous passes and overrun the land long before the time of the compilation of the Hindu religious literature known as the Vedas.
In the Vedic literature, the state has been mentioned as the land of Kirats with Pragjyotishpur as the capital. In the epic Mahabharata, it is mentioned that the Kirats fought against the Pandavas. Huen Tsang, the great Chinese traveler, visited this region in the 7th century. At that point of time, Pragjyotishpur was known as Kamrup, which was then a strong kingdom under King Bhaskaravarman. However, after this there was a gradual decline of this region and subsequent centuries were witness to repeated onslaughts by aboriginals that reduced the power of the kingdom and led to its fragmentation. It was a time when no single power could hold sway in Assam.
When the Ahoms entered Assam crossing the eastern hills in 1228, they chanced upon a period in its history when it was at its most susceptible. Among the local tribes, the Chutias and the Kacharis could offer only a semblance of resistance. The entry of Ahoms in Assam started a new beginning, and many scholars opine that the state was named after this dynasty that ruled it for six centuries. With the advent of the Ahoms, the center of power shifted from Kamrup in Lower Assam to Sibsagar in Upper Assam.
The importance of Lower Assam declined sharply, except for a short period in the early 16th century when the Koch dynasty extended their western limits considerably under their illustrious king Naranarayana.
The Mughal Empire was at its zenith during this time and they took it as a challenge to crush the Ahoms. They attacked the state 17 times. The last of the wars was fought near the present-day Saraighat Bridge over the river Brahmaputra in Guwahati. In this war, the Ahoms gave the Mughals a crushing defeat under the leadership of the able general Lachit Barphukan. Lachit Barphukan achieved immortality for his heroism and many anecdotes are now an integral part of the folklores of Assam.
The next centuries spelled troubles for this kingdom and save for a brief intervention during the reign of king Rudrasingha, the state went on a gradual decline in the 18th century. This was the time when the Burmese attacked this state and annexed them into their empire. However, they could not hold sway on the region for long and in 1826, the British forced them to cede Assam by the Treaty of Yandaboo.
With the rest of India, Assam also played an important role in the war of independence. It was declared a state under the Union of India after it achieved independence in 1947. At that time, except Manipur and Tripura, the whole of the Northeast region was called Assam. However, due to strong regional distinctions, all of them have to be carved out as separate states, starting with Nagaland in 1963 and ending with Arunachal Pradesh in 1972.
Districts of Assam
Assam is divided into 23 districts: Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Cachar, Darrang, Dhemaji, Dhubri, Dibrugarh, Goalpara, Golaghat, Hailakandi, Jorhat, Kamrup, Karbi Anglong, Karimganj, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Marigaon, Nagaon, Nalbari, North Cachar Hills, Sibsagar, Sonitpur, and Tinsukia.
Assam Travel Information
Guwahati derives its name from two words, guwa (meaning betel nut) and hati (meaning little market). It is customary for anyone on his first visit to this city to visit the Kamakhya temple, dedicated to the Mother Goddess.
The importance of the temple is second only to the mighty Brahmaputra, the river with an undeniable presence in the town. In the center of the city, with the magnificent backdrop of the Brahmaputra and atop Sukleshwar Hill stands the Janardan temple. West of Chitrachal Hill is the unique temple of Navagraha dedicated to the nine planets. Once a renowned seat of astronomy and astrology, it is possibly the reason for Guwahati’s earlier name of Pragjyotishpur.
The Assam State Zoo is not very far from the heart of the city. The undulating topography and the three-side open enclosures make the zoo almost like a natural habitat for the animals.
Guwahati has several museums, repositories of this state’s ancient culture and tradition. The Assam State Museum is the largest amongst them and has sections on epigraphy, sculpture, natural history, crafts, ethnography, and arms.
The mighty Ahoms reigned supreme for 600 years at Sibsagar, at a distance of 369 km from Guwahati, where the ruins of their temples and palaces still exist.
Resurrected by the Archeological Survey of India, these ruins provide an interesting insight into the past glory and splendor of Assam.
Other destinations are Kaziranga National Park, Manas National Park, Pabitora, a small wildlife sanctuary and Hajo.
Economy of Assam
Tea-based industry occupies an important place in Assam’s economy. The 850-odd tea gardens in the state occupy an area of about 2.31 lakh hectare.
Assam is known for its rich forest wealth with varieties of flora and fauna.
Coal, petroleum and natural gas, limestone and minor minerals are produced in the state. Coal occurs in Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, North Cachar Hills, Sibsagar, and Lakhimpur districts.
Assam is primarily an agriculture state, which accounts for the livelihood of about four-fifths of the state’s population. More than 70 percent of the workforce is engaged in agriculture and allied activities. Rice is the primary food crop; cash crops like jute, tea, cotton, oilseeds, sugarcane, potato, etc., are also grown in the state. Also grown on a small scale are horticulture crops like orange, banana, pineapple, areca nut, coconut, guava, mango, jackfruit, etc.
Rivers of Assam
Assam has extensive river system consisting of the Brahmaputra, the Kusiyara and the Barak and their tributaries. All the rivers in Assam are liable to floods, mainly because they receive heavy rainfall within a short time. These rivers are in their early stage of maturity and are very active agents of erosion. The river waters collect a tremendous amount of silt and other debris and raise the level of the river beds. Therefore, it becomes impossible for the main channel to cope with the vast volume of water received during the rains.
Education in Assam
Assam has an overall literacy rate of 64.28%. While male literacy rate is at 71.93%, the female literacy rate however is only at 56.03%, a cause for concern. The demand of education in the state has been well understood by the government, hence due attention is being paid towards the development of this field.
The state has recently made strides in setting up several institutes of high quality in the field of engineering and management. Assam has one of the largest networks of higher education in the entire North East.
The largest city Guwahati is a major destination for education for the people of the entire north eastern states. The institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, National Institute of Technology, Silchar and Guwahati University are among the top institutes of the country that provide quality education to the students.
The state has five universities; one deemed university, one institute of national importance and a good many number of professional colleges.
There are many schools in the state ,which are either run by the state government or privately by trusts and individuals. The medium of instruction at the school level is Assamese; however, some schools use English as their medium of study.
The Assam Government has introduced the policy of free and compulsory education for its children up to the age of 14.
Food of Assam
Fish is a major delicacy in Assam. One can savor the fish curries in and around Guwahati at cheap rates. A wide range of delicacies—from the rice-flour pastries stuffed with coconut and til, named as til pitha and narikal pitha, respectively, to the sweet balls of coconut and til called larus—are prepared with great care in every home. Seera (flaked rice) and doi (curd and yogurt) are also quite popular.
There is a special loveliness about bunches of the green coconuts hanging from bicycles.
They have a special taste here since they are grown on the banks of freshwater sources.
Guwahati is the ideal place to savor the special thali of Assam. The Assamese thali is a real treat with its chutneys made from pudina and mustard seed.
Among the sweets, channa (cottage cheese) sweets like spongy rosogolla, sandesh, and kalakand have a delectable taste.
Arts & Culture of Assam
There are at least three races in Assam: the Australoids (the first race that occupied this region), the Caucasoids (who came from the west to settle in the valley formed by the Ganges and the Brahmaputra), and the Mongoloids (who came to the Northeast in a series of migrations from Southeast Asia). This regular migration of different races created two distinct ethnic groups in the state, the non-tribals or plains people who generally live in the plains, and the tribals who have mainly live in the hills. However, there is a substantial tribal population in the plains too.
The major handicrafts of the state include making furniture from cane and bamboo, handloom weaving, jewelry making, sitalpati (or mat making), brass and bell-metal products, pottery, woodwork, and kuhila koth (or fiber weaving).
People of Assam use a vast range of hand-woven fabrics with intricate designs. Local silk occupies a prominent place in the Assamese society. Traditional garments (Churia for men and Mekhela-Chador for women) are used for social and religious events. With growing impact of western culture, traditional attires have given way to western clothes and majority of the people can be seen in these clothes only.
The daughter of King Banasura, Usha, was the first lasya (classic) dancer of the earth, according to Abhinaya Darpan, a Sanskrit treatise written in the second century AD. King Bana ruled Sonitpur (now Tezpur) around the time of Mahabharata. Bhomoraguri Hill near Tezpur is said to be the Natakasailya where Usha first practiced the lasya dance. Usha is also a household name in Assam because of her love affair with Lord Krishna’s grandson Anirudha.
Festivals of Assam
Rongali or Bohag Bihu is the main festival of Assam. It derives its name from the Sanskrit Vishuvam when day and night are rendered equal through the vernal equinox. People welcome the spring season and pray for a bountiful and rich harvest. This festival is celebrated in the month of Bohag (mid-April), the first month of the Assamese calendar. The exact date in the English calendar varies, but the festival normally starts from the 13th day of the month of April. Other Bihus are Bhugali Bihu (also Magh Bihu) and Kangali Bihu (also Kati Bihu).
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