Sunday, October 27, 2013

'Assamese' in transition and the increasing significance of Naamghars

Assamese society is going through a phase of transition. We are moving from the times of abundance to the times of scarcity. We are moving from a phase of harmony to a phase of competition. We are moving away from collective identity to individual identity.

Like any phase of transition, it is a phase of chaos and instability. It is also true that transition or change is the only constant. We have to adapt to the new times and keep on striving ahead as a community, and as a culture.

We cannot get lost in the winds of change. The communities and cultures who did not adapt to the change have all perished. For instance, I had read that the original population of a lot of South East Asian countries have perished, and these countries are now inhabited by people of Chinese origin.

Assamese culture, Assamese language, Assamese people have to survive the wind of change. We can and will survive, if we are prepared, ready, willing and understand the universal truth of continuous evolution. The only way to adapt and evolve is by working as a team, as a community, together inclusively towards the overall good of the community, culture and language. There will be a lot of reasons that will play a divisive role, but we have to get together with a purpose and with a resolve for the greater good. We have to get together in smaller and bigger units, and talk, share and make action plans for the unit. A unit can be a village, a Panchayat, a club or even a Naamghar.

The unit or place of get-together is very critical to this process of inclusive growth. A particular place has to drive this inclusive growth process. That place should have the credibility of being the symbol of progress, unity and together-ness. However much I think on this, the most egalitarian, equalitarian and a place of purity is our revered Naamghar. Naamghar is one of the most representative institutions of the Assamese community for ages, present in almost every village of Assam.

The genesis of naamghar is very significant in this regard. It was Srimanta Sankaradev's immense wisdom and vision to create unity in diversity, and to create a sense of community and belonging-ness. He had built this institution for the same purpose. It was for people to get together, offer community prayers, perform various group cultural activities and to participate in socio-economic discussions. Anybody from any background could come to a naamghar.

It was the ‘Facebook’ of those times. There were groups having their own naamghars, like we have FB groups today. Group members at each naamghar used to get together every evening after their daily jobs to sing the Kirtanas and other scriptures in the praise of the Lord, and then discuss about the problems of the group among themselves.

Naamghar was built as an institution of purity and immense wisdom. Srimanta Sankaradeva believed that regular or periodic visits to any institution of purity and wisdom would help the people of the community in purifying their thought processes from all thoughts and acts of evil, short-sightedness and maleficence (bad intention). He believed in the phrase, 'To err is human'. He said that it is impossible to become completely free of the all vices and evil thoughts, and regular visits to Naamghars would help us in keeping the evils of the mind away to an extent humanly possible. He designed various art forms such as the Ankia Nat and Sankari Dance, to be practiced and performed in and around the naamghars so that the village folks can spend as much time as possible in the naamghars and keep themselves occupied to lead a very inclusive and positive community life.

Also, naamghars are an inclusive institution. Any progress which is not inclusive, is bound to generate divisive sentiments. If a particular age group, sub-community or gender is not coming ahead to participate, we have to do the necessary to include them. Naamghars were designed for everyone, but with time that essense is getting lost and divisive mentality has entered the corridors of naamghars as well. Many naamghars do not allow Muslim people. The young today hardly visit our Naamghars. Absence of youth simply means absence of new ideas. Since the genesis of naamghar had the essense of inclusivity, I believe we can again make naamghars appeal to everybody. The elder folks have to invite the youth and give them responsibilities to make them feel part of the initiative.

The logic of the naamghar system still applies. It will help in the process of continuous evolution. We should collectively start a revolution in our naamghars to help the Assamese society in these times of chaos, to build a new wave of progress and development, unity and peace.

To conclude, I would just say, "Aha ami adda maru goi naamgharat..." and take Assam into the next millenium.

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