The people of Assam have traditionally been craftsmen from time
immemorial. Though Assam is mostly known for its exquisite silks
and the bamboo and cane products,
several other crafts are also made here.
Cane and Bamboo
Cane and bamboo have remained inseparable parts of life in Assam.
They happen to be the two most commonly-used items in daily life,
ranging from household implements to construction of dwelling houses
to weaving accessories to musical instruments.
The Jappi, the traditional sunshade continues to be the most prestigious
of bamboo items of the state, and it has been in use since the days
when the great Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang came to Assam that
visitors are welcomed with a jaapi.
Cane and bamboo furnitures on the other hand have been a hit both
in the domestic as well as the export market, while paati, the traditional
mat has found its way into the world of interior decoration.
Bell-metal and brass have been the most commonly used metals for
the Assamese artisan. Traditional utensils and fancy artiicles designed
by these artisans are found in every Assamese household. The Xorai
and bota have in use for centuries, to offer betel-nut and paan
while welcoming distinguished guests.
The entire population of two townships near Guwahati - Hajo and
Sarthebari, are engaged in producing traditional bell-metal and
brass articles. They have also used their innovative skills to design
modern day articles to compete with the changing times.
Gold, silver and copper too form a part of traditional metal craft
in Assam and the State Museum in Guwahati has a rich collection
of items made of these metals. Gold however is now used only for
Assam is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent
and prestigious being muga, the golden silk exclusive only to this
state. Muga apart, there is paat, as also eri, the latter being
used in manufacture of warm clothes for winter.Of a naturally rich
colour, muga is the finest of India's wild silks. It is produced
only in Assam.
The women of Assam weave fairy tales in their looms. Skill to weave
was the primary qualification of a young girl for her eligibility
for marriage. This perhaps explains why Assam has the largest concentration
of Handlooms and weavers in India. One of the world's finest artistic
traditions finds expression in their exquisitely woven 'Eri', 'Muga'
and 'Pat' fabrics.
The traditional handloom silks still hold their own in world markets
They score over factory-made silks in the richness of their textures
and designs, in their individuality, character and classic beauty.
No two handwoven silks are exactly alike. Personality of the weaver,
her hereditary skill, her innate sense of colour and balance all
help to create a unique product.
Today, India exports a wide variety of silks to western Europe
and the United States, especially as exclusive furnishing fabrics.
Boutiques and fashion houses, designers and interior decorators
have the advantage of getting custom-woven fabrics in the designs,
weaves and colours of their choice. A service that ensures an exclusive
product not easily repeatable by competitors.
The Tribals on the other hand have a wide variety of colourful
costumes, some of which have earned International repute through
the export market.
Weaving in Assam is so replete with artistic sensibility and so
intimately linked to folk life that Gandhiji, during his famous
tour to promote khadi and swadeshi, was so moved that he remarked
: "Assamese women weave fairy tales in their clothes!"
The toys of Assam have been broadly classified under four heads
: (i) clay toys, (ii) pith, (iii) wooden and bamboo toys, and (iv)
cloth and cloth-and-mud toys.
While the human figure, especially dolls, brides and grooms, is
the most common theme of all kinds of toys, a variety of animals
forms have also dominated the clay-toys scene of Assam. Clay traditionally
made by the Kumar and Hira communities, have often depicted different
animals too, while gods, goddesses and other mythological figures
also find importance in the work of traditional artist.
Pith or Indian cork has also been used for toy-making since centuries
in Assam. Such toys are chiefly made in the Goalpara region and
they include figures of gods, animals and birds, the last of which
again dominate the over-all output.
Wood and bamboo on the other hand have been in use for making toys
for several centuries , and like the other mediums, come as birds,
animals and human figures.
Toys of cloth as also with a mixture of cloth and mud too have
constituted part of the rich Assamese toy-making tradition. While
the art of making cloth toys have been traditionally handed down
from mother to daughter in every household, the cloth-and-mud toys
are generally used for puppet theatres. Among the household toys,
the bride and the groom are the most common characters, while the
other varieties have animals and mythological characters as the
Assam has always remained one of the most forest-covered states
of the country, and the variety of wood and timber available here
have formed a part of the people's culture and ecomony.
An Assamese can identify the timber by touching it even in darkness,
and can produce a series of items from it. While decorative panels
in the royal Ahom palaces of the past and the 600-years old satras
or Vaishnative monasteries are intricately carved on wood, a special
class of people who excelled in wood carving came to be known as
Khanikar , a surname proudly passed down from generation to generation.
The various articles in a satra and naam-ghar(place of worship)
are stiff cut on wood, depicting the guru asana (pedestal of the
lords), apart from various kinds of birds and animals figuring in
Modern-day Khanikar have taken to producing articles of commercial
values, including figures of one-horned rhino and replicas of the
temple - two items heading the list of demands of a visitor from
With tribal art and folk elements form the base of Assamese culture,
masks have found an important place in the cultural activities of
the people. Masks have been widely used in folk theatres and bhaonas
with the materials ranging from terracotta to pith to metal, bamboo
Similarly, among the tribals too, the use of masks is varied and
widespread, especially in their colourful dances which again revolve
chiefly around thier typical tribal myth and folklore. Such traditional
masks have of late found thier way to the modern-day drawing rooms
as decorative items and wall-hangings, thus providing self-employment
opportunities to those who have been traditionally making them.
Gold has always constituted the most-used metal for jewellery in
Assam, while the use of silver and other metals too have been there
Gold was locally available, flowing down several Himalayan rivers,
of which Subansiri is the most important. In fact, a particular
tribe of people, the Sonowal Kacharis were engaged only for gold-washing
in these rivers.
Jorhat in Upper Assam is one place where the traditional Assamese
form of manufacture of jewellery is still in vogue, and people flock
to Jorhat to get the exquisite Assamese jewellery. Assamese jewellery
include the doog-doogi, loka-paro, bana, gaam-kharu, gal-pata, jon-biri,
dhol-biri and keru, all of which have also encouraged the modern
jewellers to producing similiar designs mechanically.
Pottery is probably as old as human civilisation itself. In Assam,
pottery can be traced back to many centuries.
The Kumars and Hiras are two traditional potter communities of
Assam and while the Kumars use the wheel to produce his pots, the
Hiras are probably the only potters in the world who do not use
the wheel at all. Again, among the Hiras, only the womenfolk are
engaged in pottery work, while their men help them in procuring
the raw materials and selling the wares.
The most commonly-used pottery products include earthern pots and
pitchers, plates, incense-stick holders, earthern lamps etc, while
modern-day decoratives have also found place in their latest designs.
Information on Traditional Crafts, arts, handicrafts of Assam - India