Stretched out like a soaring bird, Assam is comprised of three main geographical areas: the Brahmaputra Valley, the Barak valley and the North Cachar Hills. Assam has unspoiled natural beauty, teeming wildlife, beautiful tea gardens and warm beautiful people. It shares borders with Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and West Bengal. Assam also shares international borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh.The state has an impressive 35% forest cover and thousands of hectares under tea cultivation. Assam has five national parks including the World Heritage Sites of Kazirnaga and Manas, and 20 Wildlife sanctuaries. The great Indian one-horned rhinoceros is one of Assam’s most famous denizens. BRAHMAPUTRA Flowing majestically along the Assam Valley is the mighty Brahmaputra. The Brahmaputra originates from Chemayung-Dung glacier near Mount Kailash and the Manas Sarovar. It is known here as the Tsang-Po or the purifier.In Assam, the Brahmaputra is a vast, placid river through most of the year with a river bed which is 10 kms wide in certain areas. At Saraighat, in Guwahati, the river is at its narrowest, barely a kilometre wide. It was here that the historical battle of Saraighat was fought in 1671 between the Ahoms and the Mughals. Nearly three centures later in 1962, the first rail-cum-road bridge over the Brahmaputra was opened to traffic. Brahmaputra’s exceptional characteristic is its numerous islands including the world’s largest populated river island, Majuli.HISTORY The first king who ruled over Kamrupa was Pushya Varman (350-380 AD). Mahendra Varman, a descendent of Pushya Varman, was the first king of Kamrupa who waged a successful war against the Gupta army. The rule of the Varman dynasty flourished in the rule of Bhaskar Varman (594-650 AD), because it is with the rule of Bhaskar Varman, that a new epoch of Assam history opened. The dynasty of the Varman kings ended with Bhaskar Varman (650 AD). The Salasthambha dynasty was the next in the line which began with the reign of a chieftain called Salastambha.Among all the kings of the Salastambha dynasty, it was Shri Harshadeva (725-750 AD) who acquitted himself as a good king. After the invasion of the Mughals in the 15th century many Muslims settled in this State and can be said to be the first Muslim settlers of this region. In 1919-20 like the rest of the country Assam also plunged into the non-cooperation movement launched by Gandhiji. The year 1912 is a memorable year is the annals of Assam history because of two things, which were: (1) Gandhiji’s visit to Assam, (2) Strikes by Assam Bengal train service.Assam joined the rest of the country in the Civil Disobedience movement of 1930 launched by Gandhiji. The first Governor of Independent Assam was Sir Akbar Haidari and Chief Minister was Gopinath Bordoloi. TRIBAL DANCES & FESTIVALS Each tribal groups has its own stock of folk dances which are attractive as much for the flowing movements as for the colouful costumes and the earthy quality of the accompanying music. The tribes of assam perform various dances indifferent seasons and festivals such as the Bodo dance, Mishing dance, Dance of Tiwa, Karbi dance, Dimasa dance, etc.FOOD Food in Assam is essentially rice-based and it includes cooked fish and meat dishes. Simplicity is the speciality of the Assamese dishes and varieties of ingredients. Assamese dishes are less spicy than any other Indian dishes, but carry richness of taste and health. Assamese are by and large non-vegetarian. FESTIVAL Assam is a land of fairs and festivals. Most of the festivals celebrated in Assam have their roots in the diverse faith and belief of her inhabitants.The major festivals celebrated in Assam are Bihu, Baishagu, Ali-AiLigang, Baikho, Rongker, Rajini Gabra, Harni Gabra, Bohaggiyo Bishu, Ambubashi Mela and Jonbill Mela and so on. Bihu is the most important festival of Assam. It is celebrated with joy and abundance by all Assamese people irrespective of caste, creed, religion, faith and belief. Bihu can be broadly divided into three categories: Bohag Bihu which augurs the wish for a good harvest because this is the time when farmers start sowing, Kaati Bihu which is observed to mark the cutting and binding of grains and Magh Bihu which marks he season of harvesting of grains. ARTS & CRAFTS Assam has been a centre for art since ancient times. The people of Assam have traditionally been craftsmen from time immemorial. The earliest record of their love towards art can be found in the 7th century Harshacharitra. Rich with cane and bamboo forests, Assamese have both the raw material and also the skills of making the cane furniture which are highly appreciated all over the world. Brass and Bell metal products are famous or their beauty, strength and utility. Assam’s villages are filled with artisans who are very talented.The terracotta industry of (Goalpara) bears a testimony to the sheer handiwork of these village sculptors and craftsmen. Though Assam is mostly known for its exquisite silks and the bamboo and cane products, several other crafts are also made here. Different regions of Assam are known for their different forms of art and handicrafts. Cane and Bamboo Cane and bamboo have remained inseparable parts of life in Assam. Grown in abundance here and hence most of the household articles in the homes of Assamese are made of cane and bamboo.The Jappi, the traditional sunshade continues to be the most prestigious of bamboo items of the state, and it has been in use since the days when the great Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang came to Assam, that visitors are welcomed with a jaapi. Metal Crafts Bell-metal and brass have been the most commonly used metals for the Assamese artisan. Traditional utensils and fancy artiicles designed by these artisans are found in every Assamese household. The Xorai and bota have in use for centuries, to offer betel-nut and paan while welcoming distinguished guests.Gold, silver and copper too form a part of traditional metal craft in Assam and the State Museum in Guwahati has a rich collection of items made of these metals. Handlooms Assam’s silk fabrics have earned immense recognition from all over the world. The state is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent and prestigious being muga, the golden silk exclusive to this state. Of a naturally rich golden colour, muga is the finest of India’s wild silks. It is produced only in Assam. Today, India exports a wide variety of silks to Western Europe and the United States, especially as exclusive furnishing fabrics.Weaving in Assam isa partof folk life that Gandhiji, during his famous tour to promote khadi and swadeshi, was so moved that he remarked : “Assamese women weave fairy tales in their clothes! ” Toys The toys of Assam can be broadly classified under four heads (i) clay toys (ii) pith (iii) wooden and bamboo toys (iv) cloth and cloth-and-mud toys. While the human figure, especially dolls, brides and grooms, is the most common theme of all kinds of toys, a variety of animals forms have also dominated the clay-toys scene of Assam. Pith or Indian cork has also been used for toy-making since centuries in Assam.Wood and bamboo on the other hand have been in use for making toys for several centuries. Toys of cloth as also with a mixture of cloth and mud too have constituted part of the rich Assamese toy-making tradition. Pottery Pottery is probably as old as human civilisation itself. In Assam, pottery can be traced back to many centuries. The Kumars and Hiras are two traditional potter communities of Assam and while the Kumars use the wheel to produce his pots, the Hiras are probably the only potters in the world who do not use the wheel at all.Again, among the Hiras, only the womenfolk are engaged in pottery work, while their men help them in procuring the raw materials and selling the wares. Woodcraft Assam has always remained one of the most forest-covered states of the country, and the variety of wood and timber available here have formed a part of the people’s culture and ecomony. A special class of people who excelled in wood carving came to be known as Khanikar, a surname proudly passed down from generation to generation. Masks have found an important place in the cultural activities of the people of Assam.Masks have been widely used in folk theatres and bhaonas with the materials ranging from terracotta to pith to metal, bamboo and wood. Jewellery In the old days, gold was locally available, flowing down several Himalayan rivers, of which Subansiri is the most important. In fact, a particular tribe of people, the Sonowal Kacharis were engaged only for gold-washing in these rivers. Terracotta Terracotta as a medium has dominated the handicraft scene of Assam and this tradition has been handed down from the generation to generation. Traditional PaintingsThe tradition of paintings in Assam can be traced back to several centuries in the past. Ahom palaces and satras and naam-ghar etc still abound in brightly-coloured paintings depicting various stories and events from history and mythology. TEA IN ASSAM Of the agriculture-based industries, tea occupies an important place in Assam. The plants used to grow naturally in the Upper Brahmaputra valley. In Assam, tea is grown both in the Brahmaputra and Barak plains. Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Nagaon and Sonitpur are the districts where tea gardens are mostly found.Assam produces 51% of the tea produced in India and about 1/6th of the tea produced in the world. About 17 percent of the workers of Assam are engaged in the tea industry. OIL IN ASSAM Assam is the first state in the country where in 1889 oil was struck at Digboi. Assam has the oldest oil refinery in the country. This refinery set up at Digboi, in Tinsukia district, started commercial production in 1901. The refinery, now belonging to the Assam Division of the Indian Oil Corporation, has a refining capacity of 3 lakh tonnes of petrol, kerosene, diesel and other petroleum products. TEMPLES AND MONUMENTSNestled in the Brahmaputra valley this state has Tantrik Shaktism, Shivaism and later Vaishnavism flourishing in its laps. From time to time people from different races, religion and culture have migrated to this place. The Mohmmedan invasions brought Islam into the state. Sikhism flourished here, Buddhist communities have kept the flag of Buddhism flying high. The famous Gurudwara at Dhubri established by the ninth Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur is held in the high veneration by the sikhs throughout the country. With the advent of new faith & religion many temples and monuments were built all ver Assam. Most of these architectural grandeurs belong to the medieval period and represent the architectural style of the Koch, Kachari and Ahom royal courts. Some of those temples are the Kamakhya Temple, Nabagraha Temple, Umananda Temple, Basisthashram, Mahabhairab Temple, Madan Kamdev, Poa-Mecca, Da-Parbatia, Agnigarh, etc. SATRAS The Institution of Satra is a unique feature of Vaishnavism in Assam, founded by Sankardeva, the father of Assamese culture. Satras are basically monasteries which propogate neo Vaishnavism.They also became centres for education and spread the art of harmonious living. In 15th century the first Satra was founded in Majuli. Since then sixty five Satras have come up for the propagation of ethics and socio-cultural ideals. However, at present there are only twenty two Satras in Majuli. The others had to be shifted to safer places due to the devastation of flood and erosion. The main existing Satras are Dakhinpat Satra, Garamurh Satra, Auniati Satra, Kamalabari Satra, Bengenaati Satra, Shamaguri Satra, Batadrawa Satra, Barpeta Satra and Kirtanghar, etc.