A sense of History…
Moidams, the hemispherical mound of earth raised over the grave of Ahom royalty and aristocracy, encapsulates within its folds the legacy of one of the longest ruling dynasties of the world.
The announcement that the central government has decided to put forth the name of Assam’s Charaideo moidams for addition to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites list, is a heartening development.
It was long due in the sense that, the history, heritage and traditions of Northeast India haven’t received the attention they deserve. The mainland discourse is painfully limited to a few incidents where the two steams of history had crossed paths. But in recent times that too had been reduced to a mere footnote.
With the forces of globalization sweeping across the world, and digital evenness pushing the limitation imposed by nation, race or community into the background, a potent climate of intense homogeneity is being created. The interaction between nations, people and community have become more widespread and varied. Thoughts and ideas are being exchanged, assimilated and made obsolete at lightning speed.
Even the physical, tangible, structures like houses, markets, and construction methods are witnessing a subtle alteration. This is an era where the shopping mall is slowly replacing traditional markets and an expression of empathy is an electronic emoji.
A dichotomy is being created. An ambiguity of choice. Father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, made a very potent statement “ I don’t want you to live in a room with doors and windows closed, open them and let the wind blow from all the sided, but let not you be blown away with the wind” This ability to stay put in one’s place… To stay firmly rooted amidst the relentless tornado of change is rooted in our understanding and belief in one’s heritage and history.
It is also pertinent to know that in this increasingly homogenized world, it is one’s history, culture and tradition, that give a community or rather an individual, a firm standing.
The strength of one’s tradition is the basic foundation on which our dreams of the global citizenry is to be built. The discourse of globalization is not being created out of a vacuum, it is taken from the bits and pieces of the narrative from communities around the globe. Only then the world can truly become a global village.
This brings us to the age-old debate between Nationalism vs Internationalism or Regionalism vs Nationalism. One view is that both are opposed to each other. But the Indian experience negates this argument. For instance, Indian nationalism is more about self-belief and confidence than mindless jingoism.
This confidence comes form knowing one’s tradition, heritage and culture. Being rooted makes one better equipped to deal with the changing times and fully contribute to the creation of a world culture.
In this backdrop of an emerging new India and a new world, the renewed interest in Assam’s past is a welcome move. Heritage both tangible and intangible abounds in this beautiful land. Whether it is the relic of the 600 years of Ahom rule, or a monument from the very dawn of history, or any other cultural offerings Assam has limitless resources.
But sadly, the historical and archival tradition of the state has been dismal.
This is not to say that the people of Assam don’t respect their heritage. They do, but for some reason, heritage and history don’t find primacy in the Assamese way of life.
From Mahairanga Danave to Narakasura, to Bahagadattas participation in the Mahabharata war, the early Aryanization and various dynasties like the Koch, Kacharies, Dimasaa, Jayantia, and Ahoms who held sway at various points of time, Assam is a melting pot of traditions.
This land is dotted with an assemblage of countless visages. But many temples, ancient artefacts, sculptures, rock carvings, have been lost in the ruthless hands of time. The banks of the Brahmaputra, in Guwahati, along with the Uravsi island, have many rock carvings of God and Goddesses, but till date no systematic study has been undertaken of those finds. Such examples of apathy abound from Sadiya to Dhubri.
Assam also painfully lacks historical writing. The ancient monuments, sculptures and rock carvings lose their meaning if they are not researched and brought within the folds of a larger historical narrative. The modern technique of historical analysis is to be employed, to have an objective view of the past. Techniques such as source criticism, time series analysis, the use of comparative methods and counterfactual analysis should be used in the study of history.
These methods and tools elevate history from a mundane study of the lives of kings and queens, to a scientific process by which historians gather evidence and formulate ideas.
Heritage is the part of history that deals with the objects, qualities, and traditions that have been passed down from the previous generation. Archiving and documentation is the only way to ensure the survival of a heritage. The lifestyle, song, dances, food habit, and practices, of varied ethnic tribe and communities, has to be properly documented and archived. This would provide the future generation with a reference point to measure their ultimate success and in some cases their failures.
A veteran journalist and writer from Assam, while addressing a seminar, recounted the difficulty he faced while researching for a book on Kaziranga National Park. The book was to be a commemorative issue to mark the parks’ centenary celebration. In the last hundred years, or so there was hardly any written material on this World Heritage Site.
The same is the case for Brahmaputra, Tea, Oil, and Kamakhya…aspects of our land that form the basis of our pride. A trip to the books shops will reveal the total dearth of material on them.
Till a few years ago the stretch of NH37, from Nagaon to Kaliabor, was a narrow, traffic jam prone patch of road. Anyone travelling by this stretch will recollect the rows of Assam-type houses that lined the road.
Now the road has been widened and there is no traffic jam All the Assam-type houses have been razed to the ground. But nobody seemed to care.
Heritage is the collective legacy, that defines and gives a community its identity. Our position in the global citizenry depends on how we nurture and protect this identity.
[Images from different sources]
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