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Kuwoli Hazarika and Gaurav Verma
Date of Publish: 2017-07-11

Congruence of fashion and tradition adds sparkle to Assamese jewellery


Enhancement of beauty has been a prime reason for evolution of Assamese jewellery over time. The original Assamese ornaments had almost disappeared. It happened because of deterioration of quality and also because the original craftsmen of Assam who were into ornament designing moved on to other professions and hence the legacy was lost. Eminent poet of Assam, Nilmani Phookan, out of curiosity, went out in search of the traditional jewellery. He searched every nook and corner of Sonarigaon, the place where originally ornaments were manufactured, and several other places and finally published a book ‘Kerumoni Thuria’ in 1950.

Exactly 50 years after Nilmani Phookan’s expedition for jewellery, a young and ambitious Waheeda Rahman went out looking for the lost and extinct ornament designs of the State. She travelled all across Assam and collected the designs from Satras, manuscripts/ Sanchipaat and Tai-Phake museum. She was amazed to find that most of them had become extinct from the market. Only 12 designs were still prevalent which included Motalukaporia, Kornoxingho and Nogortul.

President's Award winning designer Waheeda Rahman was only around 17 years old when she had stepped into this field and has never looked back since then. “As a child, I was always fascinated by designs. I used to draw patterns on my Math copy and later get caught by my teacher. Though I disliked Mathematics, my teacher was a favorite person of mine and I used to admire the designs that I saw on the saris that she wore. At that time I wasn’t quite sure that I would step into designing, but I knew I wanted to do something big, something for my Assam. Maybe that determination brought me where I am today,” she says. Rahman did a lot of research on traditional ornaments, their preparative techniques and what led to their disappearance and later brought out all those old traditional jewellery to the market once again. The technique that she applied for better quality was new and different but the designs were kept intact. “The processing makes a lot of difference. Diverting from the conventional technique of using gold or silver over lac, I make ornaments of pure gold or silver because lac degrades the quality of the minerals. It is expensive but the investment is for a lifetime,” she added.

Photo courtesy : Waheeda Rahman

She not only revived the traditional Assamese jewellery but also created over 500 new designs which reflect her love for Northeast and Assam. Some of her original designs include the Jakoi, Khaloi, Nangol, designs made out of motifs of different tribes, buds of tea leaves, the mist in Sohra (Cherapunjee), the Kopou Ful among many others. Initial 3 to 4 years of her career were challenging because people were not ready to buy Assamese ornaments but gradually she succeeded, her work got appreciated and she was able to bring a revolution in the market of traditional Assamese jewellery.

At present this business is flourishing in the State. Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE) located at Lalmati, Guwahati is making efforts to encourage and train people in jewellery making. “Assam has abundance of raw materials. It is very essential that we utilize them in proper ways and not let smuggled goods degrade the industry and our heritage. With this motive, we started the incubation centre for jewellery designing in our premises,” says Achinta Kumar Baruah , Administrative Officer at IIE.

Initially a trainee and now a master trainer at the incubation centre, Rukmo Gogoi mentioned that all kinds of jewellery designing, including Assamese traditional jewellery are taught at IIE. The duration of the courses may vary from six months to even years if someone wishes so. Some of the products prepared by the trainees are sold at ‘Udaan Hut’, a jewellery store at the Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi International Airport in Borjhar. Many trainees have become successful entrepreneurs after getting trained at IIE. They are trying out new techniques to make Assamese jewellery affordable among the common people.

Bobita Deka from Guwahati is working on silver oxidized jewellery. She says that silver oxidized jewellery has been prevalent in other parts of the country but not in Assam. She will be the first one to launch this form of Assamese jewellery in the market. It can be easily processed from nitric acid and the metal and can be completed within 2 days. She hopes this technique will make a good place in the market.

Assam Khadi and Village Industries Board under Government of Assam has started ‘Kingkhap’ in 2014 which deals with traditional Assamese jewellery and clothes. Nomita Devi, who has been dealing with the sales section at Kingkhap mentioned that the ornaments that are sold in their outlet are manufactured in Barpeta. They mostly deal with gold-plated jewellery and the speciality in their products is that their ornaments are polished three times and they come with guarantee. Kingkhap has the provision of online shopping as well and this has made it easier for people from far off places to purchase the desired ornaments right from their homes. “We receive quite a good number of orders from Dibrugarh, Sivasagar and other places. and our people personally go to deliver the products and ensure their safe delivery,” she added.

Along with the efforts made by the government, many individuals have taken up this as a profession. ‘Zangfai’ owner Lakhimi Baruah Bhuyan recalled how her father Pranab Baruah would personalise the Traditional Assamese ornaments for his daughter which was admired by other people. “After my marriage, people close to me would admire the jewellery I wore and they encouraged me to start my boutique so that I can bring such designs to the market and that is how I got into entrepreneurship. Our ornaments are manufactured in Jorhat, Nogaon and Barpeta.” She reveals that there is a difference in the jewelleries that come from these places. Ornaments manufactured in Upper Assam are made out of “Kesa Xun” or raw gold whereas the ones that come from Barpeta are mostly Gold plated, commonly said in Assamese as ‘Rupor uporot xun paani sorua’. Though price ranges vary in both cases, the demand for both is same. ‘Axomia Gohona’, another jewellery store in Guwahati is doing a great business too. It’s owner Jintu Das states that tourists do stop by his store and they are very much fascinated by Assamese jewellery.

Jewelleries , ornaments are a mark of our heritage .It is an identity. Rupkonwar Jyotiprasad Agarwala, in his movie Joymoti, has beautifully showcased the different Assamese traditional ornaments through the role of ‘Joymoti’. Keru, Longkeru, Gezera, Golpota, Doogdoogi, Jangphai,Junbiri, Gaam kharu, Madoli, Thuria ,Guliya, Bena, Guta Kharu have been all portrayed in the film. The use of these ornaments in the movie signifies the fierce, the power as well as the gracefulness that is inherent in Assamese women. It helps one realize the potential of the country’s women. At a time when the Assamese culture is at threat and identity crisis and clashes are on the rise, traditional ornaments can be a way of holding onto the roots, and movies like Joymoti stand as an example and can act as a ray of hope in this context.

Most of these indigenous ornaments have been brought back to the market by the efforts of designers like Waheeda Rahman. "ornaments will always be in demand, seasonal variability is obvious but people’s love and fascination for the jewellery will never die. It depends on how they are fused with new ideas so that they blend perfectly with modern Assamese outlook. The congruence of fashion and tradition is beautiful and it will be surely accepted by generations to come," Rahman said.

Kuwoli Hazarika and Gaurav Verma

( Kuwoli Hazarika and Gaurav Verma are students of M.A. ( Second Semester) at the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, Tezpur University. This feature has been produced as part of their Summer Internship at NEZINE. )

Photographs used in this feature were taken by Kuwoli Hazarika and Gaurav Verma


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