The Assamese people are a group of a broad racial inter-mixture of Mongolian, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian and Aryan origin. Assamese form the majority of the people in Assam; they are not considered as indigenous people. The culture of Assamese is often referred to as hybrid culture. It has developed by the gradual assimilation of cultures and traditions of various ethno-cultural groups. Assamese culture is closely associated with some of the major elements like festivals, dance, music, paintings and traditional crafts.
Assamese ancient history has been reconstructed from literature and historical stories. With its boundaries shrunken over a unstable past, Assam is a melting point of diverse cultures – more than 40 percent of Assam’s population is thought to be of migrant origin.
Assam type houses are well known for their beauty and practicality; generally a single story, multi-family housing. The houses are made largely using wood-based materials. The Assam type houses have endured well the past earthquakes in the region, because of the good configuration, light-weight materials used for walls and roofs, flexible connections between various wooden elements at different levels.
A majority of the Assamese is the Vaishnavas (a sect of Hinduism). The Vaishnavas do not believe in idol worshiping and perform Namkirtana, where the glory of Lord Vishnu is recited. Among the Assamese, a form of Hinduism exists with two contrasting emphases, that of caste and sect. In caste, one finds polytheism, hierarchy, inherited status, caste groups etc. In sects, one finds monotheism, egalitarianism among believers, acquired status, individual ideas of humanity etc.
There are several important traditional festivals among the Assamese. Of which, the 3 Bihus are the most celebrated festival among all; Bbohag Bihu’ is celebrated at the onset of spring and the sowing season; ‘Kati Bihu’ when the farms are full with crops but the barns are still empty; and the ‘Magh Bihu’ for the thanksgiving for the harvested crops. Bihu festivals bring people together to sing and dance.
Weaving is a strong tradition for the Assamese; in almost every household there is a handloom producing silk and cotton clothes of exquisite designs. The Eri, Muga and Pat are the important silk products of Assam. Gandhi praised the Assamese weavers as “artists who could weave dreams in their looms.”
Symbolism is an important part of Assamese culture. Various elements are being used to represent beliefs, feelings, pride and identity. Earlier, the designs were mostly angular geometric shapes, over the time, the style has transformed into more contemporary shapes and patterns. The motifs are mostly reflects flowers, ferns, trees, butterflies, animals, birds as well as Assamese traditional ornaments like the Thuria, Loka Paro, Joonbiri and Gaam kharu.
The Gamosa –cloth holds an great significance for the people of Assam. It is generally a white rectangular piece of cloth with primarily a red border on three sides and red woven motifs on the fourth. Although cotton yarn is the most common material for making/weaving gamosas, there are special occasion ones made from Pat silk.
The Kaziranga -style, where many of the Empower –weavers are residing, use the wildlife of Kaziranga as their inspiration; many of the designs reflect a rhino and a deer.