Song and dance is an essential feature of life of the people of Assam and this is clearly reflected in their festive occasions. Each group of people have their own stock of music and dance directly or indirectly contributing to the mainstream culture of the State.
Raga music must have made its entry into this area very early on. The Charyapadas composed in the north-eastern region between the 8th and 11th centuries were meant for rendering in specific ragas like Paja-manjari, Gavad, Gurjari and so on. This tradition seems to have been carried down through the centuries as can be surmised from the fact that Assamese Panchali poets of the 16th century used for their lyrics Charyapada ragas. The Vaishnava saints were connoisseurs of classical music.
1| Modern Music
Not only in Raga music like Borgeet, Bhotima and Ghosa (prayer songs), Assam also boasts of having most illustrious music maestros like Rupkonwar Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, Kalaguru Bishnu Prasad Rabha, Parbati Prasad Baruah, Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, Khagen Mahanta and may others. But it’s only Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, the legendary bard who has not only proved his supremacy in all forms of music and musical instruments but also excelled in celluloid too with equal command and artistic perfection. His greatness and extraordinary creative sensibility has surpassed the boundary of the country and immortalized the hopes and dreams of people across the World.
The present generation has seen the rise of two wonderful singers in Zubeen Garg and Angarag (Papon) Mahanta – both heartthrobs of the new generation who have also made their presence felt across the country including Bollywood.
2| Bihu – Love in the air
Bihu songs are nothing but love songs: love for the beloved, for the dear and near ones, for the Gods, for nature, for the loom, for the river, for the hills, the crops, animals wild and domestic, birds, and so on. Bihu songs are also symbolic of youthfulness. As one bihu song goes – Love does not break/love does not snap/love does not drop/the more you twine it more it gets twined/love is the thread of attachment!
The Bihu dance is an indigenous folk dance of Assam that is performed especially during the time of the Bohag (Rongali) Bihu festival of Assam celebrated every year in the month of April that marks the Assamese New Year. It is a vibrant dance form that is performed by the Bihu dancers who are mostly young boys and girls and this folk dance form of Assam is marker by brisk steps and rapid dance movements. The young boys and girls adorn themselves in colourful attires and the girls adorn themselves in Chador Mekhelas that is basically weaved of Muga Silk by hands and also the girls adorn themselves with Assamese traditional jewellery like Gam Kharu, Dhul Biri, Jun Biri, Gol Pata, etc. The state flower of Assam viz. the Kopou Ful (Foxtail Orchid) is adorned by the girls around the hair bun during the Bihu dance performance and the red coloured Bindi on the forehead. The boys adorn themselves in the traditional Dhoti and Gamusa and a red coloured cloth around their waist.
The beats of the music to the Bihu dance is created with various traditional musical instruments mostly with the beat of the Dhul (traditional drum), Pepa (flute created from the horn of an Asiatic Water Buffalo), Gogona, Bahi, Toka, Xutali, Taal, etc. and the young boys and girls dance to the tune of the music with brisk dance steps and rapid movements of hips, arms and waist that represents a youthful passion, joy and seduction and the Bihu dance is meant to celebrate and emulate the seasonal spirit, celebrating fertility and passion (Wikipedia). Though the origin of the Bihu dance is unknown, the first official record of this being performed was when the Ahom King Rudra Singha invited Bihu dancers to perform at the Royal pavilion of the Rang Ghar at Sivasagar in 1694 for the Rongali Bihu.
3| Sattriya Nritya
Sattriya Nritya is the classical dance form of Assam, which is a religious ballad. It is one among the eight principal classical Indian dance traditions. The foundation theme of Sattriya Nritya revolves around the love of Radha and Krishna or mythological stories of Rama or Vishnu avatars. This was an artistic and entertaining way of presenting mythological teachings to the people in the 15th century.
This dance – drama performance played a significant part in Assam’s Vaishnavite culture spread by Srimanta Shankardeva during the Bhakti Movement.
4| Bhortaal Nritya
The Bihu songs are mostly strains woven round themes of love and yearning, often having distinct erotic overtunes with characteristically catchy and earthy tunes. Bihu is among one of the most famous folk dances of Assam. You can call is ancient hip-hop.
The Bihu dance performed by young men and women, similarly reflect youthful passions and joie de vivre. Accompanied by lusty playing of the drum (dhol), the bamboo clapped (taka), the buffalo-horn pipe (pepa) and the jew’s harp (gagana), the dance is characterized by brisk stepping, flinging of hands and swaying of the hip symbolizing not only the spirit of spring but also of the reproductive urge.
5| Jhumur Dance
When tea plantations started in Assam on commercial scale, estate owners imported labourers from neighboring states and these labourers or we can say tea tribes developed a form of dance called as Jhumur Nach. Performed by girls and boys together, this was a means of recreation for these people.
The dance gets it name from the bells worn by the girls around their ankles which make a sweet sound. There are many variations of Jhumur. This dance is sometimes performed as a ritual worship of gods and goddesses, sometimes for courting and lovemaking, and yet again as prayer for rainfall. A visitor to any tea gardens of Assam can easily see this dance form in person.
The Bagurumba dance is a thousand year old folk dance of the Bodo tribe of Assam. The dance is also known as the ‘Butterfly dance’ because the steps resemble the movements of birds and butterflies. The Bodo community of Assam has many folk dances to boast of but this dance is especially popular because of its slow steps and graceful motions of outstretched hands leading to beautiful silhouettes. The dance is dedicated to the beauty of Mother Nature where they praise plants, seasons and flowing rivers through Bagurumba. It is usually performed during Bwisagu – a festival of the Bodos in the Bishuba Sankranti or mid-April.
When divinity meets dance, Deodhani emerges. Deo means God and Dhani means rhythm. Deodhani dance is exclusively performed by females. This dance is associated with the worship of the snake Goddess Manasa. There are actually two types of Deodhani Nritya. One is a semi-classical dance and the other one is in trance form. The dance can be performed as a solo or by a group. Worshippers perform Deodhani Nritya at the Kamakhya Temple.
8| Dadon Mela
The Dadon Mela is organized by the Rabha tribe in the Dadon foothills near Goalpara in early April with the two fold objective of paying obeisance to Sri Sri Risi – said to be the creator and protector of all living beings, as also to recall the heroism of Dadon – the first hero of the Rabha community and his able General Marukhetri. Various traditional folk dances and songs mark the celebration, with display of various ethnic food adds to the attraction. Goalpara is about 150 km west of Guwahati and one can travel by train, hire a taxi or take a bus ride.