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Bhaskarjyoti Mahanta
Date of Publish: 2017-01-31

In search of Asamiyat- a cultural thread that binds all ethnic groups in Assam

Srimanta Foundation for Culture and Society was established in 2003 when Dr Bhupen Hazarika, late Dr Kesavananda Deva Goswami, the founder president of the Foundation and some of us sat together thinking about a mechanism to bring Sankardeva to the fore, to the own Darbar of Assam. We talk in great length about taking Sankardeva to Biswa Darbar,a terminology that has caught on of late and we keep on talking about the Biswa Darbar. But then is it at the cost of our own Darabar ( courtyard) ? Is it that all these years the mantle that was handed over to the great successors of Srimanta Sankardeva, which was in full bloom till about 17th century had begun to fritter away ? After the demise of Mahapurusha, Srimanta Madhavdeva and Damodardeva had carried forward the great legacy. This is the legacy we got to be proud about. He had brought about this wonderful cultural heritage taking into account the entire lot of people who inhabit this wonderful land. The Sankaradeva Movement was a protest against tyranny that used to exist way back in 15th century. The uniqueness of Sankardeva was the people in general and the focus had been South East Asia. If you see the motiffs of the Guru Asana architecture wherein the papahasti gets subjugated by the Naam Simha the Lion motiff we can distinctly see influence of Myanmar, Thailand and beyond.

During his entire approach towards literature, towards social organization, towards entire cultural renaissance that he had brought about in Assam, the language that he had used was largely the language spoken in lower Assam i.e Goalporiya kind. And now what an irony of time. Rajbanghsi people, amongst whom Sankardeva had strived for a century and this wonderful heritage strived for a century has come to a naught and our people in upper Assam make fun of the Rajbangshis saying that these Rajbangshis speak a language which is not of Assam.

It is basically because of our ignorance over the years. The tribes, small ethnic groups have come to a position in which they quite cannot identify with this wonderful tradition, and we ourselves have to look at this with a critical eye. Have the Sattras played their role? Have we brought ourselves to a level of Prabhus ? The feudal streaks that have set in the entire system have alienated the Assamese mainstream from the ethnic groups? Srimanta Foundation, under the great guidance of Dr Keshavananda Devgoswami have been trying to generate sustained discussions among ourselves. Dr Bhupen Hazarika, had in fact penned a song for us. The Setubandha-the bridge building , the concept which we embarked upon way back in 2003 in collaboration with Asom Sattra Mahasabha, Bhupenda and we had thought about it and we have come far with this thought.

In 2012, we have embarked on a journey of transliterating the Borgeets into Bodo language, some of the Borgeets into Mising language. And we have trained people; we have employed teachers, who are dedicated souls. It is easy to talk about Samanvay, -(harmony efforts), in TV rooms. It is easy to write wonderfully about it but it is very difficult to practice. You have to walk the extra mile and it is very tough. Now through the Sanskritik Mission of Jengraimukh, Paschim Asom Sankskritik Mission, amongst the Rajbanshis and the Rabhas, among the Bodos of Tamulpur, the Non Bodos are learning to sing Bagorumba and other Boro cultural traits in Gohpur. The prayer Tumi Chitta that was presented before you today...the first stanza is sung in orginal as written by the Guru, the second stanza was sung in Bodo language. And the girls who have sung this are not Bodos they are Barua, Saikia, Goswami, Kalita, The third stanza was in Mising language and the fourth stanza was sung by Rajbongshis and the Rabhas of Sanskritik Mission and they sang the original language because that is the language very close to their own language.

So can we locate a common thread among ourselves despite recognizing and honouring the differences of these ethnic groups? Yes, we have our differences. Cultural differences. And despite the differences can we honour each other? Can we evolve an Asamiyat despite these differences? A common thread which binds us all in a common identity called Asamiyat. That is what is the quest of Srimanta Foundation. We have even organised workshop among the Muslims of Dhubri by taking experts of Jikir, another wonderful creation by a successor of Sankardeva-Ajan Peer. He had tried to emulate Sankardeva and evolved this wonderful form Jikir and Jari and those we are trying to popularise in lower Assam.

In short, time has perhaps come for the society in Assam to stop looking for an answer on who is an Assamese. Instead who locate the 'Xattwa' of Asamiyat wherein every jati, janagoshthi, barnna and dharmma retain their respective selves in their cultural and practices and way of life yet get bound into a “collective whole” through a common thread. And this thread has to be of solid make and design. And in tune with the liberal and unifying spirit of the Asomiyat practiced by Srimanta Sankardeva,the larger community--the Assamese speaking people must be showing the example by learning and practicing the cultural traits in the language of the tribes with whom they are having age old neighbourly relations. We have just made a beginning with the Misings and Mipaks (non Mising) in Jengraimukh, Boros and Hersha (non Boro) in Gohpur and Tamulpur in addition to our efforts with the Ravas in Modati of Kokrajhar and Rajbangshis in Dhubri-Bangladesh border. Bhaonas are being practiced both in original language in western Assam and in Bodo and Mising language in the other Missions.

We think we are being able to break the ice. Carrying on this journey all by ourselves without institutional support is not easy and theses works are not glamorous. Now we plan also to infuse the concept of “Hari Kothar Logot Sawal Kotha”...an effort to hand hold our Mission members in their quest for economic well being as well as for a healthy life. We beg the indulgence and blessings of the society in this journey.

Bhaskarjyoti Mahanta

( Bhaskarjyoti Mahanta, IPS, is the Managing Trustee of Srimanta Foundation for Culture and Society. This is an extract of his welcome speech delivered at the first K. D. Goswami Memorial Lecture organised by the Foundation and the Centre for South and South East Asian Studies, Gauhati University. He is currently the Joint Secretary, Department of Heavy Industries, Government of India. )

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