The Assamese people are a broad, inter-racial group of Mongolian, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian and Aryan origin. While the majority of people living in Assam are called Assamese, there has been a confluence of different cultures and people, through immigration, at different times. So, while, not everyone is considered indigenous, they belong to the same place and eat the same food. The Assamese are traditionally hospitable in nature and a large part of its population is agrarian.
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 built as a single storey, multi-family housing, the houses are made largely using wood-based materials. Because of good configuration, lightweight materials used in walls and roofs, and flexible connections between various wooden elements at different levels, these houses have endured the region’s frequent earthquakes quite well
A majority of the Assamese are Vaishnavas (a sect of Hinduism). The Vaishnavas do not believe in idol worshiping and perform Naam-kirtana, where the glory of Lord Vishnu is recited. Among the Assamese, 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 three 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 among the Assamese. Eri, Muga and Paat are the most important and renowned silks of Assam. Handlooms, producing clothes of exquisite designs in silk and cotton can be found in many homes, especially in the countryside. Mahatma Gandhi praised the Assamese weavers as “artists who could weave dreams in their looms.”
Symbolism is an important part of the Assamese culture. Various elements are being used to represent their beliefs, feelings, pride and identity. Earlier, the designs were mostly angular and geometric in shape. Over time, the style has transformed into more contemporary shapes and patterns. The motifs mostly reflect nature — flowers, ferns, trees, butterflies, animals, birds, as well as traditional Assamese jewellery 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.