Jaapi – a traditional hat of Assam
It is mid-April and the Tea-Bamboo rich north-eastern state of Assam in India is dancing. Rongali Bihu is celebrated to mark the beginning of Spring, Assamese New year and agricultural season. Originally a farmer’s festival but now has assumed an urban twist. In addition, the term Bihu is loosely used to refer the folkloric dance and music performed during this time.
The cattle that is important to the agrarian world gets special attention this time while the Assamese women indulge in preparing local delicacies like Pitha , a rice flour dish that has sweet, salty or vegetable fillings.
Various musical instruments are used to accompany the Bihu dance – Dhol (a 2-faced drum), Taal (cymbals), Pepa (buffalo horn), Baanhi (flute), Gogona (a bamboo jew’s-harp), Xutuli (a clay-whistle) and so on. Coming to the dance part, both men and women take part. Men, who mostly play the instruments enter the area first, in line, by beating the Dhol and blowing the Pepa, and the women dancers follow. Dancers get chance to show off their individual virtuosity by stepping aside. The dance itself has definite characteristics in hip, arms, wrists, finger movements and in easy and relaxed steps to go with the beat.
They dress in beautiful traditional attire – The men in dhotis and gamosa. Dhoti is a long unstitched rectangular white cloth that is wrapped around the waist and legs and tucked in at the front and back and gamosa is a white rectangular piece of cloth with red border that is wrapped around the head with a fluffy knot. The women are dressed in traditional Mekhela and Chador that come mostly in red and beige; Mekhela is like a sarong, pleated and tucked in at the waist while the Chador is draped over the upper part. A blouse is worn below the Chador.
The ubiquitous Jaapi hat made of bamboo is used not only in dance but has become the very symbol of the state itself. Jaapi is used as a decorative piece on the walls and is offered as a welcome gift to guests.
Assamese living outside their state form their associations and celebrate the festival with same gusto. They had one in Chennai, the city I live in, and helped me soak in –
please click below for a video clip –