AsomiyaGahana and its changing semblance

-Dr. Moushumi Bhattacharjee

The significance of ornaments is proverbial and primordial. Human’s affinity towards adorning the body is innate and even before man discovered metals; they used wooden and other naturally available materials to embellish themselves. Ornaments have its distinctive place as well as value in all the cultures and when it is in the Indian society, it is something very precious in terms of its social, cultural, traditional and economic magnitude.

The Assamese traditional ornaments are also one of the most important parts of Assamese culture. Originally used by the Ahom Kings and Queens, these jewellery pieces have occupied an honorable position in the Assamese society. The jewellery is typically hand-made, and the designs mostly depict the flora, fauna musical instruments and treasures of the region. The designs are mostly simple, decorated with vibrant red gemstone, ruby or mina.

Assam is rich in manufacturing of Gold Ornaments which dates back to several centuries. Some of the popular Assamese Traditional Ornaments include earings with exquisite Lokaparo, Keru, Thuriya, Jangphai, Longkeru, Sona or Makori; an array of necklaces including Golpata, Satsori, Jonbiri, Bena, Gejra, Dholbiri, Doogdoogi, Birimoni, Mukuta-Moni, Poalmoni, SilikhaMoni and Magardana and diversified rings including Senpata, Horinsakua, Jethinejia, Bakharpata and others. Some designs are exclusively found in this region only.

The AsomiyaGahana is typically handmade and the designs mostly depict flora and fauna treasures of the region. One can also find some designs directly derived from the elements of tribal culture in the jewellery pieces. For instance the Jangphai, Keru and Gamkharu were originally tribal ornaments. Lokaparo, which is an ornaments with two sets of twin pigeons placed back to back in gold, mina or ruby was originally worn by high profile male dignitaries of the royal Ahom Dynasty. Apart from the flora and fauna, traditional musical instruments also find an important place in the designs of the jewellery locally termed as AsomiyaGahana.

AsomiyaGahana is generally prepared manually by the Sonarigroup of people belonging to both Assamese and Bengali community. The raw materials used in making these ornaments are gold and silver metal. The floral motifs are the simplest and smallest configuration found in the Gahanas of Assam. Padum (Lotus) and Sewali (Jasmine) are two flowers commonly found in the items produced by the Sonari’s of the study area.

Pokhila(Butterfly), Charai (birds) in general, and Pigeon(Paro), Mora-charai(peacock), Hanh(ducks and swan) and Bhatow(parrot) in particular are common motifs under the geomorphic category in the designs produced in both Barpeta and Ranthali. Most of these are regarded as sacred motifs by the Assamese Hindus. Two Moras (peacock) facing each other forming an interesting design is named as Juria-moraand two Pigeons placed back to back is termed as Lokaparodesign.

To represent the natural surroundings of the state, Gach (Plant) and Lata (creeper) are abundantly used in the ornaments. Varieties of gach design, from simplest configurations to the most intricate ones, are suitably used as butas (single flower or motif) in different items produced by the people.

A great influence of material culture is often observed in the textile tradition of Assam. Artifacts and material objects, used in the socio-cultural life of the people are adopted for ornamenting the Gahana pieces. Such designs are classified under structural design. During the course of the present investigation, it has been found that the different types of ornaments such as Gamkharu (bracelets),Moni Mala (necklace), Bena (one type of necklace and earring) and Dhul (one type of necklace); and other material items like PhulamJapi (bamboo hat), Sarai (metal dish with raised border mounted on a decorated pedestal), Ghati (water pot), Chaki (lamp), Dhupdani (incense stick holder), Kar (arrow) and Bisoni (hand fan) etc. appear as motifs.

With the age of Globalization and the advancement of technology the AsomiyaGahana has also broken all boundaries and has successfully won hearts of millions of people across the globe. Moreover the designs carved on these traditional ornaments instil an essence of its rich flora and fauna which struck the attraction of the people worldwide.

As quoted by Utpal Bania, owner of a few Gahana outlets at Guwahati “People change their taste with time and so the Gahana market of Assam has also gone for a make-over.” Traditional designs and even the traditional raw materials are no longer preferred by the younger generation. KechaSun have been replaced by low cost materials which have cut down the price of the pieces thereby making it more affordable for the consumers. The young consumers come up with a request of innovative designs which are sometimes combination of two traditional motifs into one, or in some cases borrowed from the branded jewellery catalogues.  It was also observed that the up gradation in educational status, change in life style, mass media and rise in gold prices are the major factors responsible for significant change in the use of traditional ornaments in present generation.

Communicating through culture is a challenging task. Each culture has its own rules about proper behaviour which in-turn affects our verbal and non-verbal communication. As for example the married women in a Bengali community wear Shakha-Pola (white and red bangles) which indicates their marital status. Similarly the traditional AsomiyaGahana of the Assamese community has created an identity for itself in the fast changing global world. AsomiyaGahana as a traditional ornament of the Assamese community has brought niche and fame for itself at an international level. However, with changing time and taste, modernization, it seems many of the traditional motifs and designs of the AsomiyaGahana of Assam are on the verge of disappearance. This is attracting more youth in the state to take up jewellery-making as a profitable profession which is an encouraging sign for the economy of the state. Hope that these exquisite and unique jewellery of Assam gains popularity outside the state too and occupy a place of pride in its possessor. So as an attempt to preserve this age old tradition many youngsters are roping in various methods to take this tradition forward.

An Independent Researcher and Folk Media Enthusiasts.

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