Pride in our Culture

Gayatri Bhuyan

Belonging to the Bhuyan tribe from Assam

Sai Vikas Vidya Niketan

I am Gayatri Bhuyan, belonging to the Bhuyan/Bhuiya/Bhuinya tribe. I am currently studying in class 12, Science at Sai Vikash Junior College, Guwahati. I was born in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh and brought up in Guwahati, Assam. As a normal teenager, I like to scroll through Instagram, binge watch Netflix and jump from one Spotify playlist to another! As the North East is such a colourful place with many indigenous tribes and their unique culture, I've always wanted to know more about the various communities and the Ink The Genius campaign seemed to be a perfect match for me to research about our indigenous tribes and know and understand their beliefs and practices.

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Gayatri Bhuyan

“Nibir! Wake up or you’ll be late for school!” I hear my mom’s voice from downstairs. I groan to myself and roll out of the bed, preparing myself for another exhausting day at school. I never hated school until this time. I have always been an outgoing kid so I thought it wouldn’t be difficult for me to blend with the American environment but instead, every day is a new battle. Every day, they pick something new to make fun of, mostly about my looks. I wish we never moved from India but my dad has a transferable job due to which he was transferred to Boston so we moved in here too. I wonder how fun my sophomore year would be if I were in India with my friends. I sigh and continue making my bed.

I get ready and come downstairs to grab breakfast and dad offers to drop me at school. “Here we are!”, dad squeals as we drive through the stone gate and into the campus. It was the last day of school before our summer break. As I walk into my classroom, I could already hear them giggling about my khaki pants. I sigh and take a seat in one of the corners of the room.

“The class is dismissed” every time, this line fills me with joy but today it sounded divine. It was a long day at school. Our English teacher assigned us to write an essay on something that you’re proud of as our summer assignment. I spend the rest of the evening doing homework and wondering what topic I should write about.

“Dinner is ready!” my mom screams from downstairs.

“How was your day Nibir? Do you like your new school?” dad asks.

“It was a good day at school and yeah it’s a pretty good school,” I answer. “My teacher gave an assignment to write an essay about something that we’re proud of. I wonder what I should write on” I say.

“Oh, you should write about our Ahom culture. I’m pretty sure this will make your essay stand out of others”

“This would be a great topic. Will you help me with the resources?” “Oh sure son, and we’re planning a short trip to Assam next week anyway! That’d be a great trip for you!!”

“Yes!! Sure!! I’m excited!!” I exclaimed.

This is the best news ever! Although my parents hail from Assam and I was born there too, but I was brought up in Mumbai so I never got to know much about my birthplace. This would be a great experience for me and beneficial for my essay too! I’m so excited for these American kids to know more about my culture and know how proud I am of it.

A week passed and it’s finally time for our trip to Assam. We board our flights and I was so excited that I didn’t even realize where 18 hours went! We landed in Guwahati in the evening and rested for the day. The next day, we were off to Sivasagar, my parents’ hometown. We had a warm welcome from my paternal family. We never really visited Assam but we always video called each other often and on festivals like Me-Dam-Me-Phi, Bihu, and Na-khuwa. As we entered the house, I could see a large mural of my late grandparents with my grandmother wearing the traditional mekhela sador and grandfather wearing suria and suti sula with basual tongali tied around his waist. We freshened up and it was time for dinner.

“Oh my god!! Such mouth-watering dishes!!” I exclaimed.

“Haha!! Come son have a seat and enjoy your meal! Your aunt cooks really yummy dishes!” Uncle exclaimed. We were served gahori mankho, muga leta, khar, tupula bhat, and dohi kosu, and the elder men were also served with luk. Right across the dining table, there was a picture of my parents’ wedding day with both dressed in traditional attire.

“Your parents had a chack-long marriage!” uncle exclaimed as he saw me gazing over the picture.
“Interesting!! Tell me more about it!” I said with keen interest.

“It is the traditional Ahom marriage and has existed since the early days of Nang-hun-pha, the first Ahom Chak-long marriage till the present day, and is followed continuously with pomp and grandeur. It is a three-day ceremony. The first day is called ‘Joron-diya’, then ‘Murot-tel diya’ and ‘Chak-long’ on the last day with the Ahom priestly classes, Deodhai, Mohan, and Bailung perform the Ahom religious ceremonies.” He explains as I listen with great curiosity.

“One of the most unique features of this type of marriage is the promise made by the groom before his bride at the altar, Maral - a vast and beautiful Rangoli decorated with 101 earthen lamps, in presence of the mo-lung and his associates, and the elders.” “101 earthen lamps!!! So many!!” I startled.

“Yeah!” he exclaimed.

“Fine! Let’s understand the pattern and arrangement of Maral. Basically, it is a pattern where 16 small earthen lamps are arranged in 6 concentric circles and 4 medium earthen lamps in the innermost circle, and in the center we have a large earthen lamp, thus making it 101 lamps. Another interesting aspect of Ahom marriage is Hengdang which is a single-edged sword with a long handle used by the Tai people. The bride picks up the Hengdang kept on a platter and offers it to her husband, addressing him to subdue his enemies, look after his family and do well for the welfare of the country along with kavac-kapur which is prepared within a single night demonstrating the weaving power of the bride”.

The rest of the evening was spent with my uncle narrating tales of the valor of Chaolong Sukapha, Mula Gabharu, and Sati Joymoti. I spent the night jotting down the fascinating theories in my journal.

The next day, I woke up to the crowing of a rooster and birds chirping on the window. Nature’s alarm is truly the best! I stretch and roll out of bed. I get freshened up and we were served chira and mohor doi for breakfast. “What is your first impression of it?” mom asks.

“It’s absolutely delicious! And yogurt from buffaloes milk! How cool is that!!” I was astonished.

“Today we’re going for a tour around the town and will show you all the tourist places! You’re going to love it so much! ” Uncle exclaims.
“I’ll be touring the city after so long! It will bring so many memories back!” dad was overwhelmed.
After breakfast, we get ready for our day out. Our first stop was Shiva Dol. “Oh My God! It’s so pretty!” I was amazed by its astounding beauty! “Sure it is!”, says uncle.

“And you know what’s the most interesting thing about this temple? It is not only the tallest Shiva temple in Northeast India but also the highest Hindu temple in the whole of India!”, dad says as his eyes brighten with pride.
We then took a tour around the temple and the surrounding two other smaller temples, Vishnu Dol and Devi Dol, and set out for the Rang Ghar.
As soon as we reached there, my first impression was that it looked similar to the Colosseum!

“And here we have the ‘Colosseum of the East!’ ”, uncle exclaimed. “Oh my gosh! That was my first impression of this place too!”
“It is the oldest amphitheater in the whole of Asia constructed during the reign of Swargadeo Rudra Singha with bamboo and wood. However, it was rebuilt with brick by Swargadeo Pramatta Singha in 1744-1750 AD and the royal families used to come here to witness a number of games”, dad explains.

We then took a tour around the property and the beautiful big garden surrounding it. I jotted every intrinsic detail I could gather.
Our next destination was the Talatal Ghar. “It was built in the 17th century by the Ahom ruler Swargadeo Rudra Singha in Rangpur, one of the former capitals of the Ahom Kingdom. He constructed this three-storeyed underground palace from wood and other locally available materials. Later, his successor Rajeshwar Singha built four floors above and it is known as “Kareng Ghar”, uncle explains as I stand still admiring its beauty and the unique Tai-Ahom architecture of the largest Tai-Ahom monument.

“The most intriguing feature about this monument is that it was initially built as an army base, and has two secret tunnels, one, about 3 kilometers in length which connects it to the Dikhow river and the other is about 16 kilometers in length which leads to the Garhgaon Palace and it served as a great escape route for soldiers during wars and enemy attacks. The ahom architects were really smart for this idea !”, dad exclaims. Truly, Tai-Ahom architecture is one of the most unique architecture styles to ever exist! I feel so proud to be a part of this culture and I cannot hold my excitement to write a very interesting essay on this.

After a long day of the tour, our day ended with delicious chunga chawal, hukoti maas, and pani tenga as dinner.
The last day of our short trip was mostly visiting our extended families. It is so overwhelming to see how distance brings people closer.
We had our returning bus to Guwahati in the evening and flight to Boston the next day. As I started packing my belongings, aunt came in and gifted me and dad a very beautifully handcrafted traditional gamusa and mom a set of mekhela sador. I was so overwhelmed by the love and hard work that went into making the gamusa and what could be a better souvenir than a handwoven gift! Finally, with heavy hearts, we had to bid goodbye to uncle and aunt.

***A month later***

“Nibir! Wake up or you’ll be late for school!” I hear my mom’s voice from downstairs. Finally, the day has come! I have never been so excited about school. Today is the day I present my essay to my teacher and share about my rich Ahom culture with my fellow Americans. I quickly get up and get ready for the day. We had our breakfast and dad dropped me at school.

“Mr. Nibir Rajbongshi, please present your essay!” the teacher called. I confidently get up and start reading my essay. As I continued reading, I could see the eagerness in the eyes of my classmates about my unique culture. Their eyes brighten up with each intrinsic feature I read about. As I end the essay, the whole class and our teacher applaud me for my written piece. I felt so overwhelmed! The people who once made fun of me are now applauding me! Lastly, as Thomas Hardy says, “Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change. ”