ROLE OF TOURISM IN PRESERVATION OF ETHNIC CULTURE

1.     Introduction
A mechanism is the elemental necessity to preserve each and every resource or object. Likewise the principal element in the mechanism for preserving the heritage and historical resources is the visiting tourists and their comments and interests. The people can be persuaded to preserve their culture and related elements for the benefit garnered from visitors. By delving into historical details, publishing them, preserving our age old heritage and culture we can establish its value in the international scenario and that can prove as the pulling factor for national and international tourists apart from scholars, researchers and committed students.

Assam, situated in the North-East corner of India has been the abode of many tribes. It even finds reference in the ancient epic Mahabharata, where it was referred to as Pragjyotishpur, or the enlightened land of the east, as deep studies in the field of astronomy, mathematics and literature etc. continued here. At some point of time it was also known as Kamrupa. The legend attached to the name Kamrupa is that Kamadeva, the god of love, disturbed Lord Siva in his meditation and the powerful rays from his third eye incinerated him, and, later brought him back to life soothed by the prayers by his wife Rati.

Every tribe living here in the past had their own kingdom and we find relics from all those strewn around the entire State – which, while on one hand, carries great historical and architectural value also works out as objects of tourist attraction not only for the people from the State or country but from all over the world.

The historical elements that is part of culture and can be showcased for tourists may be divided into two major parts: Architecture and Sculpture. Apart from that we have many ethnic festivals held at various times during the year. Then there are ethnic dresses specific for various tribes and sub tribes and also ethnic food and beverages which is the craze of the present era.

2.     Architecture
There are abundant architectural relics strewn around different regions of Assam, that enrich our cultural heritage. Literary and epigraphic records testify architectural and sculptural achievement of Assam from ancient times.. They can be classified and studied basically from two angles – a) architectural development and its gradual transformation with time in respect to a particular area or locality b) Comparative study of contemporary architecture in entire Assam at various frames of time. In respect of temple architecture, pre-Ahom Assam seems to have had a share in the architectural activities of the different regions of Northern India. A few random examples are cited below for discussion.

Da-Parbatiya of Tezpur is the example of the earliest Assamese sculptural and architectural style. Barpujari (1990) stated that there one can see the remains of a brick built temple of Shiva of the Ahom period erected upon the ruins of a stone temple with the architectural style of Gupta era of 5th – 6th Century A.D. Another interesting relic is the Agnigarh – the guarded hillock once surrounded with a moat and an inner wall of fire (agni) built by king Bana to protect his daughter Usha. He challenged to prove the prophecy wrong by keeping her totally secluded from people – her only companion being Chitralekha – who possessed some magical powers. The discovery of her secret marriage with Aniruddha – the grandson of Lord Krishna ultimately led to a standoff between Lord Krishna (incarnation of Bishnu – Hari) and Lord Shiva (Hara) which is known as battle of Hari-Hara. So much blood was shed in the said battle that the then princely State was named Sonitpur (Sonit - blood, Pur - place). The reference of Lord Krishna in the legend dates back to Mahabharata era.

The Vashishthashram on the Sandhyachal hills situated some 12 km from reference point of Guwahati city at the confluence of three streams Sandhya, Lolita and Kanta - is associated with sage Vashishtha, the wish-son of Brahma-the creator, who finds reference in our epics. The present temple erected there was constructed by Swargadeo Rajeswar Singha during his tenure 1751-1769 A.D. A foot print of sage Vashishtha is said to be found inside the temple premises. The legend associated with it as mentioned in Kalika Purana in its seventy-ninth chapter is that sage Vasisththa was cursed to a formless life by king Nimi - who, in turn suffered the same fate by the curse of sage Vashishtha. Sage Vashishtha then, as advised by Brahma, settled in the Sandhyachal Hills to meditate in order to earn Lord Vishnu’s favour to get out of the formless condition. Vishnu appeared and asked him to fetch water of the Ganges from three directions to merge and bathe there for the curse to end. Vashishtha then, with his divine powers created the three streams, Sandhya, Lalita and Kanta fed by the water from the Ganges with the confluence in Vashishthashram – that is known as Vashishtha-Ganga. After an ablution and imbibing the waters from the confluence Vashishtha was freed from the curse. There is a popular belief that one who takes a dip there is cleansed of all the worldly sins one has committed and ones mind too becomes cleansed. People throng the place especially during the eclipses.

A large stone known as Arundhati rock named after the sage’s wife is also found in a secluded spot towards west of the temple.

The Nabagraha temple situated in the Chitrachal hills contains all the nine planets that are considered to control our lives astrologically. It is mentioned in the Kalika Purana (38/119) that the creator of the universe created all the planets sitting here and so this place came to be known as Pragjyotishpura. Even now it is a thriving centre of astrology. The present temple was built by Ahom King Rajeswar Singha and a rock inscription dating back to 1674 Saka (1752 A.D.) is found. This was, however, badly damaged in the devastating earthquake in 1897 and rebuilt later. A nonagon shaped tank is found in the plains names Silpukhuri with an inscription of king Rajeswar Singha. People also identify a hitherto encroached upon plot named Sakuntola Pukhuri (tank), the mother of the great king Bharat from which the name of our country is derived.

Another very ancient relic is Kamakhya Temple. The legend associated with it is that Lord Shiva, who was married to Sati, the daughter of king Daksha was left out from being invited to a yagna – but Sati decided to attend. There, Shiva was so humiliated in his absence by her father that she could not bear further and ended her physical form through deep meditation. Shiva took the form of Rudra (Angry) lifted her lifeless body and started travelling. Vishnu, to put an end to the episode, started cutting off her body into fifty-one pieces with his Sudarshan Chakra that fell off in various places all over India that became known as Shatipeeths – and her yoni portion fell on the Nilachal hills – termed Yonipeeth which is considered the most powerful of all. Ambubachi mela is held here every year during May (Jaishtha) when the earth goddess is said to menstruate and devotees throng this place in million strength.

The present temple was built by the Koch king Naranarayana in 1565 A.D. the entire area is strewn by many sculptures of Bhairava, Lotus, Lion, Ganesha etc. dating back to between 8th – 17th Century. Several temples of various incarnations of Shakti like Tara, Chinnamasta, Bogola etc. are there all around the main temple.

Umananda, the tiniest island of the world is situated just across Uzanbazar area of Guwahati in the Brahmaputra. This island has been referred to as Bhasmachal, Bhasmakut and Bhasmasaila in Kalikapurana and Yoginitantra. It was the spot where Lord Shiva incinerated Kamadeva by the fire-rays emanating from his third eye located at the centre of the forehead. Lord Shiva is said to be ever present for pleasure (Ananda in Sanskrit) of his wife Uma – hence the name Umananda. The English called it Peacock island as its rocky form appeared in the shape of a peacock (Neog, 1969 (Edited), page 227). The present temple was erected by Ahom king Gadadhar Singha in 1616 Saka (1695 A.D.) as depicted in a stone inscription.

The tortoise form of Vishnu, its second incarnation is worshipped at Aswakranta temple is situated on the Bank of mighty Brahmaputra just beyond Umananda at North Guwahati. The other one of the pair is located on the mountain of Mazgaon. Within this temple Lord Vishnu is found reclining on serpent king Ananta – the only such idol to be found in Assam. An imprint of Lord Vishnu’s foot is said to there on a huge rock. A kunda (pond) is said to have existed that have been devoured by the Brahmaputra in course of time. It is a popular belief that a dip on that portion would wash away all sins and the asthi – (pieces of frontal bones from the forehead remaining after cremation) is also immersed there for eternal peace of the soul. The present temple was built during the reign of king Sivasingha in 1642 Saka (1720 A.D.).
The Devangiri hills or Madana Kamadeva hills is located about 20 kM away from Guwahati. Once a huge structure, it is now in ruins. The basement of the temple, the only part found intact dates back to tenth-eleventh century. Various figures of men, women, animals, floral patterns, carved slabs of stone, fragments of stone pillars are found lying around.  

The Devalaya (abode of Gods) is situated on Maniparbat at Hajo and its enchanting beauty always pulls tourists apart from favour seeking pilgrims. The reference of it is found in Kalika Purana where it is said to have been established by sage Ourba. It is said that Lord Vishnu has made his abode here after eliminating five demons namely Jwarasura, Hoyasur etc. that had been disturbing Ourba continuously in his meditation. Interesting fact about this temple is that the Buddhists too offer prayer here. The speciality of this temple are the elephant statues at the base. Stone inscriptions of Koch king Raghudev, Ahom king Pratap Singha and Kamaleswar Singha are found inside the temple. A little further from Madhava Temple  is Powa Mecca (Powa - ¼ Kg) which is said to have been built with sand imported from the holy place of Mecca and said to bring a quarter of good result as one gets from visiting Mecca.

Sri Suryapahar, the place with 99999 Sivalingas (Neog, 1969) and where one can find sculptures of three religions – Jainism, Saktism and Buddhism - all in one place is located some fifteen kilometres from Goalpara as has said by Barpujari (1990). The wheel shaped picture on a big flat stone found in this hillock indicate the incidence of astrological study during 5th to 9th Century A.D.

The mountain caves numbering  18 across Brahmaputra from Goalpara at Pancharatna where ascetics (yogis) said to have meditated and from which the name Jogighopa of the place have been derived is a spot for interesting study. It is a popular belief that the marriage of Siva and Parvati had been solemnized on the rock courtyard in front of a big cave named Subasini found on the eastern side of the hillock (Neog, 1969).

Moving towards the Ahom capital, we find at Charaidew the Maidams – the mausoleums of the Swargadeos –where the corpse of deceased kings were preserved by scientific methods inside wooden boxes made of Uriam wood known as Roong-dung as has opined by Barbaru, (1981). The science of erection of maidams in Assam spread far and wide across India during the Ahom era. Various jewellery items made of gold and silver alongwith food and clothings were laid along with the corpse. Later on, these maidams were excavated by various groups in search of hidden treasures that laid to wanton destruction. It is even reported that a burning diya (earthen lamp),and fresh pairs of betel leaf and arecanut had been found in some of these maidams spreading beliefs amongst the people about supernatural powers associated with the deceased (Rajkumar, 1980).  Apart from the kings, corpses of some high officials were also put inside maidams.

In nearby Sivasagar one finds Rangghar – the Ahom kings resting place to watch various games and sports in the ground below, Karengghar attached with Talatalghar with its secret passage connected to the bank of river Dikhow. Both these structures are so craftily built and designed that anyone entering it without prior briefing would lose ones way as it happens in a maze. Apart from that there are Sivadeol, Joydeol, Vishnudeol, Joysagar Pukhuri (Tank) and Rudrasagar Pukhuri (Tank).

The speciality of all the Ahom era structures are that they had been built with burnt bricks and stones attached to each other with karaal - an admixture of natural ingredients like crushed pulses, lac, rice husk, fish, duck egg, lime obtained from burnt snail, limestone, jute fibre etc. that has withstood several hundred years of sun and monsoon.

Srimanta Sankaradeva the Vaishnavite saint who started the Vaishnava revolution in Assam that has given this place a unique institution called Satra at a later stage – with a unique architectural design and a unique administrative system for its functioning. The dance form named Sattriya has also been evolved by him has been accorded National Dance Form status. Bhaona, a form of one act dance drama written in Brajawali dialect – a mixture of Assamese, Oriya & Maithili language and depicting the stories from our epics is our cultural treasure and has already proved to be an international puller with people from various countries getting involved in studying learning and performing Sattriya and Bhaona as the authors have mentioned in Satra Santara (Saikia, 2013). There are more than 600 Sattra institutions spread over Assam and even beyond.

Another religious performance is Ojapali – an old form of musical street play – performed by a group of quartet, where the story is converted into humour tales narrated by the lead singer.

3.   Ethnic Festivals
The major ethnic festival of Assam, that is, and has the potential to continue as the tourist attraction is the one heralding the Assamese New Year in the middle of April – in the month of Vaisakha. People sing special songs named Bihu songs and dance in groups with beating of drums, playing of flute, wind instrument made out of buffalo horns and special bamboo instrument named gogona, earthen instrument named sutuli etc. the dance forms and songs vary from place to place from tribe to tribe – even they are called differently - Baisagu for the Bodo Kacharis, Ali-ai-ligang for the Misings, Bisu for the Deoris, Baikhu for the Rabhas etc while it is generally termed as Rongali Bihu throughout Assam. 

Apart from that during the month of Magha, by the middle of January the harvesting festival is held by setting fire variously designed hay and bamboo structures at Sunrise and praying the Fire God. A community dinner held the night before. It is the occasion to prepare various food items and relish.
Me-dam-me-phi of the Ahom community held on January 31 and Tusu Puja accompanied by Jhumur dance by the Tea garden community are also crowd pullers.

4.   Conclusion
The architectures, sculptures from the regal era are gradually getting lost or destructed because of apathy from the administration and lack of general awareness of the populace regarding its immense value. One should note that, the more ancient a piece of historical relic is, its value increases proportionally, rather exponentially. In the past, some structures including temples etc.  had been erected to commemorate some events – but those were left uncared for immediately after the fall of the dynasty. In case of the many temples and other such religious places, the caretakers lost the patronage after the British invasion and were left at peoples’ mercy. People, by and large, were, and still are, not aware of the immense value of such historical elements and the necessity of preservation for record and study to delve out new and newer facets of historical information from those. At the same time, some unscrupulous elements are taking full advantage of the situation for their personal benefit by pilfering and smuggling these relics and earning huge amounts in the process and making us poorer in elements of heritage. It appears that the relics in other parts of India are being preserved in a better manner by and large. Guest house and other proper living accommodations should be made adjacent to such historical spots of importance for research scholars, writers and photographers and other interested tourists to be on the spot round the clock and also proper road communication to such spots is to be provided to attract people interested to study the past and also educate people about the ancestry.

It is also seen that, there is a rich legend or important event associated with every ancient structure. These stories should be etched on plaques or walls of respective structures and also free brochures in major international languages should be made available at the tourist centres and same should also be uploaded in the website. Such steps would go a long way in encouraging people to visit. Apart from that the locals must also be made aware of the heritage of every site in the vicinity for propagation of information as well as to help guide visitors around.

Erudite travellers from various countries, especially oriental ones, set their foot in this land and spent quite some time and mentioned elaborately about its enthralling features in their travelogues. Later, several British architect and linguists came here to study its architecture and sculptures and compiled them providing us valuable reference books in the study of language and culture of the land. Seeing something since birth is a different thing and observing through an academic angle by a well travelled person is a different aspect altogether. We must showcase our rich heritage in all forms to claim a position of honour in the world community and also to attract people from all over the world to watch these live and earning foreign currency and providing livelihood for increasing number of people in the process.

References
  • M. Neog (edited) (1969). Pabitra Asom. Guwahati: Assam Sahitya Sabha, pp. 317 & 315.
  • S. Rajkumar (1980). Itihaxe Sonwora Sashata Basar. Jorhat: Amiya Rajkumari (Publisher), p. 117.
  • H. Barbarua (1981). Ahomar Din. Guwahati: Asam Prakashan Parishad, p. 399.
  • H.K.Barpujari (1990). The Coprehensive History of Assam. Vol. I, Guwahati: Publication Board Assam, pp. 422& 433.
  • D. Saikia(edited), Satra Santara Smarak Grantha, pp. 28, 37 & 48.
  
About the author: The author, Ms. Rashmirekha Hazarika, Assistant Professor, Department of History in Beltola College, Bongaon, Beltola, Guwahati, Assam, India has been working there since 1998. She has also been associated in writing textbooks of Social Science with Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, Assam and also with Sishu Siksha Samity, Assam. Her popular articles related to interesting historical facts have been published in most of the vernacular dailies, magazines and periodicals including Special Issues and also children's magazine like Sofura, Mukuta etc. and also in The Assam Tribune. She is also a member of Executive Council- the Central Policymaker body of Sishu Siksha Samity, Assam. [Read More]


No comments:

Post a Comment

Share Every Sense on Art, Culture & Literature; Travel & Tourism; Commerce & Economy; Science & Technology; etc. Send us your Write-up by Email: dimorianreview@gmail.com

DIMORIAN REVIEW WELCOMES YOUR ASSOCIATION AS A CONTRIBUTOR

Share every sense on Art, Culture & Literature; Travel & Tourism; Commerce & Economy; Science & Technology; etc. Publish Article, Story, Poetry, Book Review, Travelogue, Recipe and News. Send us your creative contents written or transcreated in English at E-mail:dimorianreview@gmail.com

Get Free Updates at Your Inbox! Enter Your Email Address:

WE'RE HAPPY TO SEE YOU HERE. PLEASE VISIT AGAIN. HAVE GOOD TIME!

Twitter Bird Gadget