Assam is one of the seven sisters of the north-eastern states and is known for its picturesque scenic beauty, wildlife, silk, and handicraft and how could anyone forget about the tea so delicious, it might leave you delirious. Assam also possesses an exotic culture full of life and the folk dances of the state are no exception. Grab a cup of some lovely Assamese tea and get ready to be enchanted by the magnificence of some of the most popular folk dances of Assam!
1. Bihu Dance
Watching most beautiful folk dance form of Northeast “Bihu” being performed, one cannot help but start smiling as they watch the people of Assam dancing and enthusiastically celebrating their regional new year on Ranguli Bihu which is from where the dance derives its name. What makes this dance special is firstly its invigorating movements and formations which involve energized hand movements and steps. Its colorful and bright costumes make the dance even more extraordinary. The girls look truly beautiful wearing a costume called ‘chadormekhela’ which is mainly made from silk, which is also something Assam is renowned for.
The boys’ attire comprises a dhoti and gamocha, a type of turban. They dance to the tunes of various instruments, mainly the ‘Dhol’ and ‘Pepa’, which is a hornpipe. Its origins can be traced to the districts of Tezpur and Darrang as early as the 9th century. A little-known fact about Bihu is that it was originally a courtship dance and therefore is also considered as a symbol of merriment and seduction. Bihu has managed to create an impact at a global level which is something that we can all be proud of.
2. Jhumar Dance
Another eminent dance form of Assam is Jhumar which is popular with the tea community who after a day of hard work commemorate the occasion of their apparent freedom from work by dancing. It helps them to get away from the tedious nature of their work. That is why this dance form is also known as Chah Baganar Jumur Nach. It is specially performed during harvest festivals as well as other joyous festivities. The reason this dance is referred to as Jhumar is because of the bells worn by the dancers around their ankles which make the ‘jhumar’ sound.
The Jhumar dance has various variations depending upon the occasion. It may be portrayed as a ritual of devotion, as a courtship dance, or as a request to the gods to serve the people with rain and to later thank them for the same. It can be typically witnessed in an open area, with the male dressed in long traditional apparel playing the Mandar which is a type of drum, while the women gracefully execute various movements in sync with hands on each other’s waists. It is truly a refreshing symbolization of the epic highs and lows of just everyday life which is something rarely seen.
3. Bagurumba Dance
Bagurumba dance is a piece that is mostly performed by the Bodo tribe of Assam. When you witness the dance and notice the formations executed by the dancers, they remind you of nature and wildlife with some of them depicting birds, animals, a flowing river, and so on, and the creative usage of the cloth around their neck (which is special to the Bodo community) during the dance immediately causes your mind to resonate it with the image of a butterfly flapping its wings which is why it is also called the ‘butterfly’ dance. It is mainly performed by women at the Bwishagu Festival who dance to the tunes of various instruments such as the Serja, Jota, Gongwa, etc. The women are dressed in their traditional vibrant clothing which poetically represents nature.
4. Sattriya Dance
When describing this dance form, the first two words that come to mind are elegant and graceful. Sattriya is one of the eight principle Indian Classical Dances (it received said status in the year 2000 by the Sangeet Natak Academy) and its origins are traced back to the monasteries called ‘Sattras’ that were set up Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev for the spread of Vaishnavism during the 15th and 16th century in Assam. The dancers perform to the tunes of Assamese music called Borgeet. Sattriya depicts the stories of mythologies and the lessons learned from them in mainly three themes: Ramdani, Guru Vandana, and Geet Abhinaya. This dance form also stands out particularly because of the costume’s alluring blend of colors which is a perfect representation of the Assamese culture.
Deodhani is another dance form popular in Assam. It is typically performed by one person or a group of three to four women to honor Manasa, the snake goddess. It is a Shaman folk dance. The word ‘Deo’ means god and the word ‘Dhani’ refers to a woman possessed by a shaman. The dancers take swords in their hands as props and they present a war dance with their hair kept open. The dancer depicts a strong woman, a warrior who is unmarried and a believer of Goddess Padma and takes charge of her fate following the legend of Behulaa who had to dance to protect her husband’s life in front of Manasa.
Gumrag makes the list of one of the most infamous dances in Assam, particularly famous with the people of the Mishing tribe. Gumrag is performed during Ali Aye Ligang festival, it is usually associated with agriculture because of the reflection of its meaning. The word ‘Ali’ means roots and seeds, the word ‘Ai’ means fruit and lastly, the word ‘Ligang’ means sowing. The dance’s said connection with agriculture is the reason it is enthusiastically celebrated by both boys and girls, dressed in traditional clothing with brisk movements, during the Ahu Paddy Cultivation to appreciate our Mother Earth.
Apart from the tea and silk, Assam has so much more to offer and its folk dances are one of them. They are a truly immersive experience that I, personally, would recommend you witness. However, the very little knowledge about them is what disappoints me for they are a gem left undiscovered. Let’s leave no stone unturned. Let’s enjoy the beauty of our rich culture and heritage.