THE FOLK CULTURE OF BARAK VALLEY

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CHAPTER 2 THE FOLK CULTURE OF BARAK VALLEY Barak Valley is the southern most region of Assam which is the outcome of the changes brought about by new cleavages, new alignments of power through invasion
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CHAPTER 2 THE FOLK CULTURE OF BARAK VALLEY Barak Valley is the southern most region of Assam which is the outcome of the changes brought about by new cleavages, new alignments of power through invasion and colonization, trade, migration within the frame work of the State leading to the formation of a pluralistic society. Barak Valley, was originally an extension of East Bengal. In 1874, Assam was organized as a province by the British and two Bengali speaking districts of Sylhet and Cachar were carved out of Bengal Presidency and incorporated to Assam to meet the revenue deficit of the newly formed province. These districts were known as the Surma Valley division. In 1947, the major part of Sylhet district was transferred to East Pakistan and the remaining part of Surma Valley division was reorganized into three districts - Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi within the State of Assam after independence (Choudhury 2003 p-xi). Since the time immemorial Barak Valley has been the confluence of people belonging to different ethnic groups, communities and cultural entities. Presently, the dominant community is the Bengali speaking community of Hindus and Muslims in Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts of South Assam. The valley constitutes a total geographical area of 6,941.2 sq. km., about 9% of the total land area of Assam with a population of 31,162,272 (Census 2011). The district of Cachar covers an area of 3786 sq.km.and it comprises two sub-divisions; namely Silchar and Lakhipur. The district town of Hailakandi is 55 kms from Silchar. Hailakandi is the smallest district of Assam covering an area of 1,327 sq.km. The district of Karimganj covers an area of 1,809 Sq. km. It is the easternmost part of Barak Valley and the major part of the district is bordered by Sylhet district of Bangladesh. The Barak Valley, formerly known as Cachar (Bhattacharjee 1977) is a natural extension of Bengal plains. This valley was peopled by the Bengalis. For sometime, in the medieval period the valley was under the Tipperahs and their capital was at Khalangsha on the bank of the Barak River, but the Tipperahs gradually migrated to Tipperah Hills. The North Cachar Hills were then under Dimasas and in the seventeenth century they shifted their capital to Khaspur in 27 the Cachar Valley. The Dimasas were generally confined in the hills and very few villages were there in the plains. The British records testify the existence of large Bengalee Khels in the valley and the ancient coins and scripts give sufficient evidence that the valley was predominantly Bengali speaking. The Barmans, that is the Dimasas of the plains, were gradually Bangalised and, as Bhattacharjee (1977) writes in his 'Cachar under British Rule in North-East India', Raja Krishnachandra and Govindachandra made correspondence with East India Company's Government in Bengali language.thc Bengali population in Cachar had increased in the nineteenth century after the British annexation. Bengali was given official status in the three districts of Barak Valley under the Assam Official Language in, Sylethi (a dialect of Bangla) is ofcourse spoken by the majority (Chatterjee 2000). The valley has a long history of Muslim rule; half of the valley was under the rule of the Turk-Afghan dynasties of Bengal from 13^^ century and continued with the establishment of the Mughal Empire. But this Muslim dominance and rule from 1204 came to an end with the introduction of British rule in Bengal in As such, the valley has Hindus and Muslims mainly and some other religious communities make only 4%. The Hindus form 50% of the total population and the Muslims 46%. In Cachar district the Hindus are in majority with 60% of the total population whereas in Karimganj and Hailakandi the Muslims are in majority with 53% and 57% respectively of the total population (Roy 1961). Many Manipuris migrated to Cachar, Sylhet and Tripura during the Burmese occupation of Manipur in 1758 (Bhattacharjee 2004). The introduction of tea plantation in the valley also invited migrants from different parts of India, especially North India since 1860s during the colonial rule. Most of the migrants were tea-garden labourers and along with them came some of the traders from Rajasthan in commercial pursuit (Bhattacharjee 2004:242). At the close of the eighteenth century the plains of Cachar were dominated by different groups of tribes. They were mainly the Dimasas, the Kukis, the Nagas, the Reangs, the Manipuris, and the Kochs. Barak Valley is populated by the communities such as the Bengali Hindus, the Bengali Muslims, the Barman, the Bishnupriya Manipuris, the Mitei, the Hmar, the Rongmei Naga, the Khasi, the Kuki, the 28 Assamese, the Reang or Bru, the Chakma, the Dhean and the Tea Garden populace (Chattarjee 2000). These various ethnic groups compose the folk culture of the Valley in contemporary time. It is being discussed here. The Bengalees The Bengali Hindus celebrate religious festivals like Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Suryabrata, Sivaratri, Dol Yatra, Barani Puja, Manasha Puja, Sitali Puja, Kartik Sankranti, Paush Sankranti, Shasti, Rath Yatra, Dol Purnima, Lakshmi Puja, Nauka Puja, Dasha- Avatar Puja,.Ihulan Jatra, Phuldal, Rupashi Puja, Savitri Brata, Mangalchandi Puja, Atanajer Brata, Karma Purusher Brata, Charak Puja etc. Along with some of these festivals, fairs or melas are held. To name a few, the Siddeshwar Mela during Baruni Yatra, the Bhuban Mela during Sivaratri, the Bharam baba's Mela, the Posh Mela,the Gandhi Mela, the mela on the day of Mahalaya,which add to the fervour of celebrations. There are numerous shrines and temples of historical significance scattered all around in the valley. Two Kalibari temples were founded at Silchar, one in 1833 and another one in 1871 at Tarapur. The Kalibari at Hailakandi was established towards the close of the nineteenth century. The Baramthan in Silcoorie and Shyamananda Ashram, the Radhamadhab Akhra, Mahaprabhu Akhra and Shyamsundar Akhra in Silchar were established in the 19 ' Century. The Kachakanti Bari at Uddharbond and Ranachandi Mandir in Khaspur was founded during the Heramba rule and have been kept in high esteem by the devout Hindus; a Siva temple in Subhang has references since? ' century AD and the images of Hara-Parvati in Bhuban Hills were probably installed by the Tipperahs, while the Siva temple in Badarpurghat is said to have been established by Kapil Muni, the celebrated author of Sankhya philosophy. All these shrines arc considered to be sacred by the Hindus and have continued to be places of pilgrimages (Bhattacharjee 1977). Bengali Muslims of Barak Valley have a significant identity and have rich traditional customs and practices which contribute to the folk culture of the valley. The Bengali Muslims in Cachar mostly belong to Sunni sect. The Imam Medhi Mukam and Langer Shaer Mukam at Phulertal and Kari Pircr Mukam near 29 Badarpur are very old Muslim shrines. The Pirbadi, the Dargah of Sufi saint is 35 kms from Hailakandi, where special religious celebrations are held every year in the month of February. The Hazarat Shah Adam Khaki Dargali is another important Mocum (Muslim prayer house) in the Barak Valley and is one of the 360 Aolias (Mocums) from all over the world. The Darul Ulum at Baskandi is one of the biggest Arabic universities of India, which was established by Hazi Akbor Ali, a pupil of Hazi Imdadulla Mahazir of Mecca in Every year many Muslim spiritual leaders visit the university and religious discussions and celebrations are held (Barak Utsav 2005). The Muslims celebrate Id with great pomp, and Jari dance and songs are performed during the Maliaram. The Gaji dance and song is popular among the Bengali Muslims. Kamaluddin Ahmed (2004) refers to Maripatigan, and Islamic religious songs in his 'Sanskritir Rong -Rup'Chatterjee (2000) Apart from that they sing songs in praise of Shah Jalal even now. The Bengali Muslims cat beef and buffalo's meat but do not eat pork.the Hindus do not eat beef. The Bengali Muslim women too wear sarees and in some of the villages they wear Burkha (a long flowing garment covered from head to feet). The men usually wear lungi (a long stitched loin cloth) and Panjabi (a loose long shirt type garment) and a white cap. Many Muslim women especially the younger generation wear modern dresses like shirts and pants, salwar-kameez, tops and skirts, jeans and kurtis, frocks etc. The Bengali Hindu women are fond of gold ornaments and jewelleries, the married women also adorn themselves with bangles made of shell (sankha) and vermilion (sindur). The Bengali Hindu women traditionally wore sarccs, whereas the men traditionally wore dhoti (a long loin cloth,usually white in colour) and Panjabi (a loose long shirt type garment) but, nowadays both men and women wear their traditional dresses on special occasions and wear modern dresses specially salwar suit at other times. Both Hindu and Muslim widows wear white sarees and the Bengali Hindu widows, abstain from non-vegetarian diet and widow remarriage is not practiced usually. Rice is the staple food of both Hindus and Bengali Muslims. They are also fond of fish, sutki (the local name for dried fish), uti (smoked fish), chungar peetha (rice stuffed inside bamboo and cooked over fire) sheddho pitha (steamed rice cakes) meat,etc. There is rich traditional art and craft 30 practices amongst the Bengalees, both Hindus and Muslims. They are skilled in bamboo craft and make mats {ashan),'w'mnowing platter or tray called (kula), sieve (chaloin), hand-fan {bisoin),ro\md platter for winnowing {dala), fishing articles, baskets of various sizes and shapes, bedsteads called (chang), Pottery making is another essential occupation of the Bengalees. Most of the villagers are agriculturists. Ofcourse, nowadays, most of the youths do not like cultivation and they are more interested in other jobs. The Bengali Hindus of Barak Valley follow the caste system but are less rigid and the Bengalees have two castes namely; the Brahmin and the Sudra (Chatterjee 2000: ). Brahmins enjoyed high rank but nowadays situation is changing and people have become more liberal minded. Apart from the Brahmins there are Kayasthas. The greater section of population comprises Dom Patni (fishermen and boats men) communities. Apart from these there are Baruis (Betel growers), Baniks (traders), Dhopas (washermen), Kamars (smiths), Napiths (barbers), Namasudras (sweepers). Das (slaves), Phulmalis (gardeners), Telis (Oilpressers), Tantis (weavers) and the Kaivartas, all belonged to the lower strata of the society. The Kaivartas are non-aryans, and fish trading is their main occupation.the Kaivartas belong to two classes; namely, the Haloya Keyots and the Jaluya Keyots.The Haloya Keyots engage themselves in cultivation. They were originally Saktas (worshippers of Shakti or Kali) but, nowadays, large sections of them follow Vaishnava dharma. Most of the women are engaged in household jobs and also engage themselves in construction sites with their male counterparts.the Jaluyas are mainly fishermen by occupation and are Mohammedans. The Nath (Yogis), descendants of Gorakanath- the Saiva Saint, are yet another dominant community which has a stronghold in the valley. They have their own priests who are known as Mohantas. They marry within their own community. The traditional occupation of the Yogis was agriculture and weaving. Most of the Naths are land owners and are very prosperous. The Nath Yogis bury their dead unlike the other Hindu castes (Chatterjee 2000:127). There are also Vaisnavites within the Bengali Hindus. Earlier child marriage was highly prevalent amongst both the Hindus and the Muslims but, nowadays, this is hardly practised because most of the people 31 are educated. Another interesting fact is that irrespective of caste or religion both the Hindus and Muslims have the common titles like Choudhury, Mazumdar, Biswas, Bhuiya, Laskar etc. These titles were revenue titles conferred upon them by the Kachari Raja Krishna Chandra (Chatterjee 2000:128). Most of the Bengali Hindu families practice monogamy. In the urban area most of the families are nuclear whereas in the villages there is still prevalence of joint families. Saridance Dhamail, Bounachar Badhubaran, Ojha Nach, Charaknach are some of the dances performed by the Bengali Hindus on different occasions. The Barmashi songs, the lokogeet, pauligan, marriage songs, religious songs, sarigan, Baulgan, Dulargan, Lutergan, and Kirtan are the major songs. Apart from these, songs are sung to celebrate every occasion by the Bengali Hindus. The Hmars The Hmar tribe is one of the Chin-Kuki-Mizo groups of people spread on a large area in North-East India and are recognized as Scheduled tribes under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India (Hazarika 1994:238). There is no written document stating the Hmar origin and movement and it is their folktales and songs which reveal the history and movement of this tribe (Dena Lai 2008).The word 'Hmar' literally means north and, as such, it is believed that this tribe is known as Hmar, for it was living in the north of Lushai (Mizo) Hills. There is yet another opinion that the term Hmar is derived from the word Marh or Mhar which means 'tying of one's hairs in a knot on the nape of the neck'. A folk tale goes that Tukbemsawn, one of the ancestors, tied his hair in a knot on the nape of the neck and those who followed him came to be known as Hmars. Very often the plain people identify the Hmars as the old Kukis but the Hmars proclaim themselves as a distinct ethnic group. The Hmars at present reside in North-East India, especially in Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Assam. In Assam they have settled down in the eastern part of Cachar, in Karimganj and Hailakandi and the Dima Hasao district. In Cachar district most of them are living in different villages like Juitha, Mualdan, Baroidisa,Tlangmawi, Kumba, Harinagar, Hmarkulien, Chiru Punjee, Kalam Punjee, Rema Punjee, Longekhar, Boro Kumpi, Dipucherra, Nengthi Punjee, Morchakal, Tulpi, Chuta Tulpi, Bijingsu, Bhula, Tuiset, Singa Punjee, Buma, 32 Diglang, Karem Faillen, Beithe Punjee, Digli Choorpunjee, U.S. Moloing, Lower Ladi, Mirpur, Saichel Punjee under Lakhipur Police Station.The highest concentration of Hmars is in Cachar district. The language of the Hmars is Hmar Tawng and it is introduced as a medium of instruction at primary and higher secondary level in Cachar district.the Hmar divides into clans: namely, Biete, Changsan, Chawnthel, Darngawn, Faihriem, Hmarlusei, Hranghawl, Khawbhung, Kheite, Khiengte, Khuolhring, Lawitlang, Leiri, Lungtau, Neitham, Ngente, Ngurte Pautu, Rawite, Thick, Vangsie, Zote Chorai, Chothe, Darlong, Koireng, Langrong, Kom etc. Each of these clans is divided into sub-clans. The Hmar settlement pattern is determined by their clan affinity. The Hmar villages are thus multiclan villages (Dena Lai 2008).These clans and even the family does not have much influence in determining the choice of partner for marriage. A Hmar can marry almost any girl, except his sister, aunt, mother and grandmother. The Hmar prefer maternal cross-cousin marriage. In Hmar society widow remarriage is prevalent. A boy in the Hmar society can marry according to his choice but the consent of parents of both the sides is necessary. Formal negotiations are held in the girl's place where the boy's parents have to go with a piece of white cloth and rice beer and, then, the bride price (nuhmeiman) is decided (Dena 2008). Monogamy is their ideal form of marriage. The Khuong lawn, Lunglak and Sesun are their important festivals.chawn-lam (festive or harvesting dance), Dar-lam (funeral dance), Pheipheet-lam (war dance), Hrang-lam (head hunting dance), Tinna-Hla-lan (parting dance) are some of the folk dances of the Hmar tribes.traditionally the Hmars are animists. The Hmars believed in the supreme power of Pathien, their God. They made offerings to different spirits and not to Pathien and in times of trials and diseases they tried to propitiate these spirits. The Hmars bury their dead, and their priests (Thiempu) perform various rites over the graves of the dead.the Hmars are traditionally agriculturists. They practice jhum cultivation. Rice is their staple crop and apart from that they grow vegetables and fruits, such as watermelon, ginger, potatoes, chillies, pumpkin, bananas, oranges, etc.tlie women folk are skilled in weaving and handloom products. They also make products out of bamboo and cane (Singh 2003). It may be mentioned here that the Hrangkhol and the Faihriem are amongst the 33 numerous phanams or clans of Hmar Kuki tribes. In Barak Valley there are seventeen villages of the Hrangkhol with a total population of 8,347. They build their houses on wooden pillar and use bamboo mostly for construction of houses. They celebrate the Rual-Chapak harvest festival, and during the spring time they celebrate the Parangat festival.the Paranghat festival is a festival of flowers which is celebrated on a full moon night. The festival commences in the evening and continues till next morning. Young men collect baskets of wild flowers to offer to the eldest man of the village. Thereafter, they invoke the spring season through songs and dances and make merry with drinks. Fish is a symbol of prosperity to the Hrangkhols and in connection with this Soksolkirlam dance is organized by the community. Bhailam is another dance performed to welcome special guests to their village. Here, men wear Churia, Kamis, Lukom, Changkaltak, and women dancers wear Ponpomtak, Ponamnei, Kongkhit and Thepbop etc. They also wear ornaments; viz, Jakcher, Chumhrui and Lirthei. There are other folk dances like Darlam, Doinkini, and Rochemiam where traditional instruments like Dar, Cheranda, Rochem and Theile are used. The Faihriems have their own dialect and is still spoken in not more than two villages of Cachar district in Barak valley. The Faihriem clan is further divided into subclans, namely, Bapui, Hmuntha, Khawral, Khawkhieng, Saivate, Saihmar, Seitling, Thlanghnung, Tuollai etc (Bahadur 1977). The Assamese Some of the Assamese speaking people entered the Barak Valley with the Koch General Chilarai, but the army of Chilarai consisted of not only the Koch as there were also many Assamese from Kamrup. These Assamese ultimately did not return to Brahmaputra valley but stayed back in Cachar. Many Assamese people from Upper Assam entered Barak Valley during the Moamaria rebellion to escape from the oppression of Ahom Queen Phuleswari. The Assamese speaking population settled down at Gumrah (near Kalain) Gader Bhitar,- Badarpur, Alkhargul, Borgul, Tarapur (Silchar) etc. They were Vaisnavites and inspite of the Bengali impact they retained their language and culture. In the early part of the nineteenth century, the Brahmaputra Valley was ravaged by the Burmese and as such many of the Assamese people fled and took shelter in the 34 Surma Valley.Even today there are many Assamese villages in Cachar and Karimgang districts of Barak Valley (Bhattacharjee 2004). The Assamese populace of the valley celebrates Bihu and organizes Bihutolis like those in any other place in Assam. They have even their own Namghars (prayer halls). Of course, due to Bengali influence some of them worship Sakta gods and goddesses. The traditional dress for men is dhoti (a long loin cloth for men usually white in colour), kurta (long shirt like garment) and gamocha women wear mekhla (dress from the waist up to the ankle which is stitched like a long skirt), sadder (a long piece of cloth to cover the upper part of the body) and riha (upper garment). Various ornaments are used around the neck by the women such as dugdugi, jonbiri, and dholbiri, kouthanar, golpata, mogerbona, etc. Ornaments worn on the ears are kanfal, thwia (pierced through the ear lobe), lokapar (hanging from the ear lobe). Ornaments worn
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