Visit these Restaurants in Guwahati for Ethnic Assamese food: My personal favorites!

Assamese cuisine is a burst of different rich flavors which is light on your palate at the same time. For many of you gahori manxho, xhar, aloo pitika might be synonymous to ethnic Assamese cuisine. But the variety which Assamese cuisine offers is unimaginable unless you see and savour it yourself. From locally grown herbs to local produce, local variety of fish and unique cooking techniques, ethnic Assamese cuisine is too good to resist. If you want to taste the flavors of Assam then visit these restaurants in Guwahati which gives you the perfect taste of ethnic Assamese cuisine.

To know more about the popular ethnic Assamese delicacies read my blog post Top 10 most popular ethnic Assamese dish.

Parampara Paradise

This is one of the oldest and most popular restaurants in Guwahati serving authentic ethnic Assamese cuisine. Located in Silpukhuri, the restaurant has a very cozy ambience with great seating arrangements. It can accommodate large groups comfortably, and satisfy your taste buds giving you the best experience of Assamese flavors.

A typical thali in Parampara Paradise
Source: tripadvisor.in

Parampara thali is their meal speciality served in bell metal dishes. You will be served a welcome drink which depends on the seasonal availability of fruits or vegetables. Gooseberry or local lime soft drink is served as a welcome drink with this thali along with 13 other food items which includes Assamese speciality like khar, pitika, kharoli, khorisa, kuhudi, fish tenga, steamed fish, pigeon or duck curry, dal, rice, mixed vegetables, mahor guri and traditional dessert of hurum (puffed rice) with thick cream and jaggery.

The restaurant offers not only thali or meal but also a-la-carte menu. The ethnic Assamese menu ranges from duck, pork, chicken and pigeon to a variety of locally available fish and a variety of vegetarian options as well.

Parampara Paradise
Source: tripadvisor.in

The restaurant is currently following all protocols as directed by the government. While maintaining social distancing the restaurant is temporarily offering self-service and food is being served in disposable plates. Tables are being set 6 feet apart, staff is properly equipped with masks, face shields and sanitizers, the premise is sanitized everyday before opening and after closing.

The address of this restaurant is:

Parampara Paradise, Maniram Dewan Road, Krishna Nagar, Silpukhuri, Guwahati- 781003, Assam.

Mising Kitchen

Located in the heart of the city at Hengerabari, Mising Kitchen offers ethnic Assamese cuisine along with Mising cuisine. The restaurant is not very spacious but certainly is guest-friendly and homely. In fact, this is my personal favourite when it comes to taste and value for money.

Interior of Mising Kitchen
Source: magicpin.in

The few times I went there to dine I have witnessed full house of diners who come hungry and leave content. The restaurant offers ethnic Assamese as well as Mising cuisine which gives food lovers different options to choose from. They even serve thali specially for kids catering to their small appetite and choice of food.

The restaurant offers Normal thali with a choice of chicken, pork, duck, fish and even paneer. Like all Assamese thalis, the platter includes a variety of dishes from khar, pitika to curry and dessert.

Mising Kitchen
Source: justdial.com

The address of this restaurant is:

Mising Kitchen, House no. 24, 1st floor, Near Public Health Chariali, Hengrabari Road, Ganeshguri, Guwahati, Assam.

Gam’s Delicacy

Talk about beautiful interiors, spacious dining, awesome flavors, Gam’s Delicacy has it all. The first thing that caught my eyes on entering this restaurant for the first time was their unique furniture and bamboo decor. Located just below the Ganeshguri flyover in the heart of the city, this restaurant attracts a lot of customers. They also operate another unit located just opposite the ISBT and Balaji temple in Garchuk, Guwahati. One can easily arrange any kind of family functions or social meetings here given the space the restaurant offers.

Gam’s Delicacy, Garchuk unit
Source: tripadvisor.in

The restaurant offers Fish, Pork and Chicken thali with a variety of 14 items. For example, a typical pork thali will include Joha rice, yellow dal, Green veg/herbs fry, Pork curry, Pork with black dal, Pork boil, Pork patot diya (wrapped in banana or Tora leaf), Pork khorika, aloo pitika ( mashed potatoes), kheer, green salad, pickle, mint chutney and lentil chutney served in brass metal dishes and bowls.

Duck, pigeon and mutton varieties are available as part of their a-la-carte menu along with a variety of other ethnic Assamese dishes. Local varieties of fish and vegetables are available cooked with different local ingredients and herbs.

Gam’s Delicacy city unit
Source: sentinelassam.com

The addresses of the 2 units of this restaurant are:

Gam’s Delicacy, Krishna Market, GMC ward no. 44, G.S.Road, Ganeshguri, Guwahati, Assam.

Gam’s Delicacy Restaurant, Betkuchi, Opposite Maniram Dewan Trade Centre, NH 37, Garchuk, Guwahati, Assam.

Heritage Khorikaa

Heritage Khorikaa is the brainchild of Assam’s celebrity chef Atul Lahkar. He is a self-made and self-taught man, learning authentic cuisines directly from the locals over the years. He is a curious mind, always experimenting with ingredients and flavors. His restaurant is very popular because of his proud association with celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Sanjeev Kapoor among others as well as for his great culinary skills.

Chef Atul Lahkar and Chef Sanjeev Kapoor in front of Heritage Khorikaa
Source: quicklisting.in

Located at Chandmari, the restaurant serves flavoursome authentic ethnic Assamese food. The restaurant offers a Vegetarian thali or meal with around 10 to 12 items and a choice of different meat and fish to choose from. Pork, Duck, Pigeon, Chicken and different varieties of fish are available on the menu. Khorikaa meaning barbeque, among other popular dishes, is their speciality as the name suggests.

The only time I tasted their flavoursome food left me craving for more. Their highlight seems to be the a-la-carte menu rather than the thali, which leaves a lingering taste on your palate of that special dish you savoured. I hope to visit this restaurant soon for another gastronomic experience.

Interiors of Heritage Khorikaa
Source: justdial.com

The address of this restaurant is:

Heritage Khorikaa, GNB Road, Behind Goswami Service Station HP petrol pump, Chandmari, Guwahati, Assam

Maihang

Maihang, I guess, is the largest operating restaurant chain in Assam with two branches in the city, and a few are outside Guwahati. The new outlet of Maihang was recently opened in Hengerabari in the city, which gives a very traditional vibe on entering because of their unique decor and plush interiors.

The table with Maihang, the traditional serving dish on display.
Source: maihang.in

The restaurant offers 2 thali or meal options- Maihang veg thali and Maihang non-veg thali. The rest are in their a-la-carte menu. The vegetarian meal includes 11 items like Joha rice, yellow dal, black dal, aloo pitika/bengena pitika, seasonal mixed vegetables, green vegetables fry, xhar/bor tenga, green veg boil, kharoli, baby potato fry, herbal chutney. In the non-veg thali a few of the veg items have been replaced by the non-veg varieties. For example, if you choose a fish thali you will get fish pitika, murighonto, fish tenga curry and fish fry.

The usual delicacies of duck, fish, pigeon and pork are available cooked with a variety of different ingredients and different styles. The restaurant gives utmost importance to healthy food and hygiene. They boast of their til chicken ( chicken cooked with black sesame seeds) as their signature and most popular dish.

The interior of Maihang
Source: maihang.in

The address of this restaurant is:

Maihang, Public Health tiniali, Lichubagan, Hengerabari Road, Guwahati, Assam

Ahom dress worn by a child

Traditional Attires of Assam and The Ahom Dress

Traditional dress of Assam: The Mekhela Chador

Assam silk is the indigenous silk of Assam comprising of Muga, Paat and Eri silk. The traditional dress of Assam, the Mekhela Chador is mostly woven out of these three silk and is naturally the pride of the Assamese people. The mekhela chador is a three piece attire consisting of the blouse, the lower skirt called mekhela and the chador which is draped around the waist and bosom. In addition the reeha is also worn occasionally by the women folk, mainly by married women. The men wear a suria or dhoti which is an unstitched cloth worn around the waist and goes down to the knee and below, and a sula or shirt. A gamucha is the most integral part of the Assamese attire.

Assamese traditional dress of men
Source: Swarnav Borgohain

The Ahom dynasty and Class division:

Assam is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state and as such the dresses differ with each community or group. The Ahoms are an ethnic community of Assam who ruled Assam from 1228 to 1826 maintaining their sovereignty for nearly 600 years. The Ahom dynasty was established by Sukapha, a Shan prince of Mong Mao who came to Assam after crossing the Patkai mountains. During their reign they successfully resisted the Mughal expansion of North-east India but subsequently fell to the repeated Burmese invasions of Assam. In 1826 the control of the kingdom passed into the East India Company after the signing of the Treaty of Yandabo.

The Ahom kingdom was ruled by a king called Swargadeo ( Chao-Pha) who had to be a direct descendant of Sukapha, the first king. Sukapha had two great Gohains to aid him in administration – Burhagohain and Borgohain and much later in the 16th century Borpatragohain was added in administration. Then there were the royal officers and the council of ministers. Simply speaking the Ahoms also consisted of the royalty and the common subject. Based on this class division the attire of the Ahoms also differed a lot.

Traditional dress of Ahom men
Source: https://www.facebook.com/TaiAhomCultureAndHeritage/

The Ahom dress:

In the early years of the Ahom rule they were seen to wear black clothes which was only later shifted to white clothes. Particular dresses and jewellery was assigned to every class of the people which was distinctive of their social status. The dresses worn by the royalty and higher officials were not worn by the common subject. The fabric used to weave the clothes of the royals  and the higher officials were of Assam silk– either Muga, Paat or Eri silk. Mejankari and  Sopapotia kapur are also certain types of clothes which were worn by them.

In my previous post on Choklong marriage, the unique marriage system of the Ahoms have been discussed in detail. In that post the wedding dress of the Ahom bride and groom have also been discussed. There’s not much difference of the wedding dress from that of the normal dress of the Ahoms.

Traditional dress of Ahom women
Source: picbear.org

The dress of an Ahom women is basically a three piece attire consisting of the suti sula , the mekhela and the reeha. The suti sula is the blouse, the mekhela is like the skirt and the reeha is draped around the waist and the shoulder. Another distinctive part of their attire was the turban or paguri worn on the head, and the cheleng chador worn like a scarf. This was mainly worn by kings, princes, princesses as well as higher officials.

The men wore the sapkon which is like a short shirt and is tied at the waist with Basual tongali, a kind of belt type strap. The suria is the lower garment wrapped around the waist and extended to the knee or below it. The length of the suria defined the social class of the people to a great extent. The cheleng chador is worn as a scarf and the paguri is worn on the head. The Hengdang is the pride and identity of an Ahom male which is a sword carried by them. These clothes were again distinctive of the royals and the higher officials. The Ahom king Swargadeo Rudra Singha was the first to introduce the shirt in Assam. The Ahom kings started wearing the sapkon in the Mughal style made by kingkhap, mejankari and gomseng silk yarn.

Neev in Ahom dress/ attire

The paguri and cheleng chador were not meant for the common subjects of the Ahom kingdom. Theirs was a more simple dress which was restricted to a kopahi kapur or cotton. The basic difference was in the material or fabric used to weave the clothes of the Ahom royals and the subjects. In fact it was during the Ahom rule that the Assam silk of Sualkuchi was given royal patronage. Mejankari, spun with silvery white thread was the pride of the Ahom monarchs, a symbol of their status.

The traditional Ahom dress has over the years changed into the mekhela chador and sula suria. It is only occasionally that the Ahoms prefer wearing their traditional dress like in their Choklong marriage and other ceremonies of the community. The Ahom dress is, in fact, very royal, elaborate and unique as the Ahoms themselves.

Rongali Bihu: The Assamese New Year

Rongali Bihu: The Advent, the previous post, I have mentioned that Bihu is the thread that holds the people of Assam together, irrespective of community, ethnicity, language or religion. Rongali Bihu is the Assamese New Year but people of Assam come together as a state to celebrate this colourful festival.

Togor phool blooms in Bohaag
Source: lowes.com

Rongali is symbolic of youth. Nature bears new leaves during this season, the dullness of winter gives way to new life and Rongali is the celebration of this fresh breath of life. The youth therefore finds a gust of new life and this is the topic of many Bihu geet or songs. The mesmerising sound of the Dhol, pepa and baahi leaves everyone spellbound as young girls dances gracefully to the beats completely oblivious of the surroundings.

Eibeli bihuti romoke jomoke

Nahor phul phulibor botor

Nahor phulor gundhe pai

Nasonir tot e nai

Gosokot bhangi jai jotor

Bihu geet or songs

Bihu geet are the songs sung during Bihu which follow a certain tone, melody and lyrics. They are a very important part of the Assamese culture and the dominant themes being nature, love, friendship and youth. Most bihu songs are a playful expression of love by either a young boy or a girl. Bohaag adds colour to the lives of young boys and girls and love confessions and courtships are an integral part of Rongali Bihu.

Bihua playing the pepa
Source: thehindu.com

In one such song the lover tries to woo his beloved by gifting her the kopou phool. The beloved, on the other hand, secretly goes to meet her lover giving some other excuse to her mother.

Pahar bogai bogai senimai kopou phool ani dim

O senimai khupate

Khupate guji dim buli

Maarok phaki di senimai bihu loi ahili

O senimai sereki

Sereki anugoi buli

Love is a sweet emotion and has been metaphorically compared to ‘sira doi’ the traditional Assamese jolpaan. Love is like the river which flows incessantly :

Piriti piriti piriti

Piriti mitha sira doi

Piriti piriti piriti

Piriti buwa buwoti noi

Piriti piriti piriti

Ure jibon thakibo boi

These are some very popular Bihu songs on love. The river imagery has been beautifully portrayed to emphasise that love is never-ending but forever growing.

Husori / Jeng Bihu

Husori or courtyard bihu is a form of dance performance done during Bihu by visiting every household. Young boys get together led by an elderly and sing bihu songs followed by bihu dance. When young girls perform in a troupe in the same manner it is called jeng bihu. A husori or a jeng bihu troupe visiting your house during Bihu is considered auspicious. They usher in good luck and prosperity by singing:

Jaya Rama bula

Jaya Hari bula

Grihosthor kusholarthe

Bula jai Hari bula

Bihu husori troupe
Source: topyaps.com

When a husori troupe visits you are suppose to welcome them with a gamucha leading the way to your courtyard. At the end of the husori performance a xoraai is offered to them which usually contains tamul-paan, a gamucha and a certain amount of money. Sometimes jolpaan and pithas are also offered along with tea.

Manuh Bihu

Manuh Bihu is the first day of Bohaag, the Assamese New Year. People have a ceremonial bath with maah-halodhi ( black gram and turmeric paste) and put on new clothes. Prayers are offered by lighting the chaki ( earthen lamps) in the household prayer place. The young ones of the family then seek blessings from the elders and offer the traditional gamuchas woven specially for this occasion. All family members sit together to enjoy the elaborate traditional breakfast of doi-jolpaan and pitha amidst chit-chat and laughter.

Bihu jolpaan and pitha
Source: indraniskitchenflavours.com

It is also a tradition to visit family, relatives and friends on the occasion of bihu. The reason being to spend quality time together over a family meal.

Bihu celebration on stage

In the earlier days, during the Ahom rule Bihu was celebrated with much gaiety and performances were organised for the royals. Swargadeo, the king and the other royals clad in their traditional attire sat majestically to enjoy these performances which took place in the Ranghar premises of Sivasagar.

Swargadeo ulale batsorar mukholoi

Duliya e patile dola

Kanot jilikile nora jangfai

Gaat e gumsengor sula

Ranghar bakori Bihu celebration
Source : outlookindia.com

Even today a day long celebration is organised in the premises of historic Ranghar on the occasion of Rongali Bihu keeping in view the grandeur of the tradition.

Other than Ranghar bakori bihu, Bihu stages are organised every year in every nook and corner of the State where the community come together to take part in the celebration. Husori, jeng- bihu, bihu dance, bihu song, and a variety of other cultural competitions are organised. On the first day of Bohaag , mukoli bihu is organised in Latasil field of Guwahati every year. Both Ranghar bakori bihu and Latasil field bihu are very popular and people from around the State witness it with great enthusiasm.

Mukoli Bihu is like an open stage for performances without any makeshift stage. In the earlier days, unlike the makeshift stage now, bihu either meant mukoli or gos tolor bihu.

Rongali Bihu is the main festival of Assam which falls in the Assamese month of Bohaag, hence also called Bohaag Bihu. Bihu ushers in the spring season as we hear the melodious voice of the Cuckoo, the fragrance of nahar, togor and kopou phool. Rongali thus is the celebration of new life.

Rongali Bihu: The Advent

Bohaag mathu eti ritu nohoi

Nohoi Bohaag eti maah

Axomiya jaatir e ayukh rekha

Gonojiyonor e xakh

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika

Bohaag Bihu, the Assamese New Year is the most important festival of Assam. It would be unfair to call it merely a festival because Bihu, in reality, is the thread which binds the people here irrespective of any community, religion or language. Dr. Bhupen Hazarika was a poet of the people and his songs reflect the Assamese life in its core. In this song he clearly expresses the emotions that we as Assamese hold in our heart for Bihu. Bohaag is not a season or a month for us, it is our lifeline, the inspiration for our social life.

Kopou phool ( Foxtail Orchid)
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Bohaag is the melodious singing of the Cuckoo ushering in a season of greenery. Bohaag is the raw smell of the tilled land as we get ready for another season of cultivation. Bohaag is the mesmerising sound of the pepa and Dhol which echoes in every nook and corner. Bohaag is the fragrance of the kopou and togor that adorns the hair of a young Bihu dancer. Bohaag is the aroma that fills every kitchen preparing the tasty pithas. Bohaag is the sound of the loom getting busy weaving gamucha (bihuan) .

In Assam the preparations for Bohaag Bihu starts many days ahead of the actual festival. Women gets busy weaving gamucha and mekhela sador in their looms. Gifting gamuchas to the elderly during Bihu has been a tradition here and when it’s woven rather than bought the value increases.

Gamucha in the handloom
Source: thenortheastwindow.com

Gamucha is also used to cover the altar at the prayer hall and the scriptures too. Usually every Bohaag Bihu this is replaced by a new one when family members offer prayers in their prayer halls. Gamucha is the pride of the Assamese people.

Another very important activity is preparation of the pithas or rice cakes and jolpaan. Nowadays everything is readily available in the market but many prepare these at home. Women in the villages use to get together and prepare the chira, hurum, akhoi, hando jolpaan first by grinding in the dheki and then roasting in the fire. Variety of pithas are prepared a few days ahead which includes til pitha, ghila pitha, anguli pitha, tekeli pitha etc. Every kitchen turns into a mini factory before and during the Bihu.

A very popular bihu song by Krishnamoni Nath aptly relates this activity. In this song he teases his beloved to treat him to jolpaan when he comes to her home for husori.

Dheki de dheki de o mure lahori

Dhekire sabote kopai tul suburi

Handoh pithaguri, aru tho sira bhaji

Husori gabo ahim jotonai dibi

Krishnamoni Nath
Bihu pitha and jolpaan
Source: indraniskitchenflavours.com

The entire month of Bohaag is celebrated as Bihu but there are certain traditions which are followed during the two days – goru Bihu and manuh Bihu. Manuh Bihu is the first day of the Assamese New Year and Goru Bihu is the last day of the previous year.

Goru Bihu

On Goru Bihu, the cows are worshipped because Assam being an agrarian State cows in particular and cattles in general are of utmost importance. The cows are gathered early morning and led to a pond or river where they are given a ceremonial bath with turmeric and black gram paste, and vegetables are offered to eat. They are whipped with Makhiloti and Dighloti leaves to keep insects and mosquitoes away. In the evening they are tied with new harnesses, dighloti leaves are burnt along with rice bran to ward off evil in the form of sickness and salted pithas are fed. While bathing the cows the farmers sing a song thereby invoking the divine blessings to bestow good health to their cows.

Dighloti dighol paat

Maakhi maru jaat jaat

Lau kha bengena kha

Bosore bosore barhi ja

Mar xoru baper horu

Toi hobi Bor goru

The goru Bihu special traditions
Source: Runjun Konwar Gogoi

Koni juj is another popular tradition where family members engage in a friendly match of eggs. One person holds an egg in his palm and another hits it with his, the person whose egg breaks first loses. This is in totality a fun tradition. The broken eggs are later cooked with either amlori tup (weaver ants) or scrambled to be eaten along with poita bhaat ( leftover rice). After a hearty exotic meal most people visit the Naamghar and engage in naam praxanga thereby offering prayers in thanksgiving as well as to welcome the new year.

In the evening 101 variety of vegetables are cooked which is believed to keep away illness. 101 haak as we call it, not necessarily includes 101 variety but as many as can be collected. This includes some with very good medicinal values for which the prevalent belief among people. This mixed vegetables delicacy tastes so good inspite of being a weird mixture of sour, bitter, sweet and a lot of other flavours.

The festivities of Bohaag Bihu continue throughout the month although the main traditions are performed during the first two days. There are a lot of related rituals, activities and traditions which will leave you mesmerised. In this post I have included the preparations leading to Bihu and goru Bihu tradition. A lot more other details and manuh Bihu traditions will be included in the next post.

Deepor Beel – A Haven for Migratory Birds in Winter

Asom amar rupohi

Gunoru nai hekh

Bharotore purba dixhor

Surjya utha dekh

………….

Assam, situated in the east of India, is an agrarian state and is naturally rich with flora and fauna. The perception of this state in the minds of many is that of a ‘jungle’ where animals run wild. But for us the natural beauty of this state, the warm lap of Mother Nature is ever so blissful. We do have wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, wetlands, rainforests which are world heritage sites. We take pride in our One-horned Rhino, Hoolock Gibbon, Pigmi Hog, Wild Buffalo, Foxtail Orchid and the variety of other flora and fauna found in abundance here. We get to breathe fresh air every morning, get up to the chirping of the birds, go fishing all we want and walk barefoot which to many might be a distant dream.

………..

Gutei jibon bisarileu

Olekh dibokh rati

Asom dekhor dore napau

Iman rokhal mati

Siro binondiya tumar

Seuj poribekh

Bharotore purba dixhor

Surjya uthar dekh

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika

Deepor beel, a haven for migratory birds, is one such wetland in the heart of the capital city Guwahati in which we take pride. It is a permanent freshwater lake located on the south-west of Guwahati, Assam on the southern bank of river Brahmaputra. It is about 5 kms from Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, Guwahati and so is an easy access to tourists. Deepor beel was made a bird’s sanctuary in 1989, and a protected wetland in 2002. The main source of water of this lake are the Basistha and Kalamoni rivers and local monsoon run-off between May and September. In winter part of the beel dries out and the locals convert the exposed part into paddy fields.

Grey Pelican
Source : Surjya Kumar Chetia

During the 33rd National Games of India which was hosted by Assam, Deepor beel was the venue for watersports like rowing, canoeing and kayaking. Amidst much debate, protests by environmentalists and wildlife activists the venue was finalised and necessary measures were adopted to maintain the natural habitat of the fauna while getting it ready for the event. It was during this event that Deepor beel came to the limelight and caught the attention of a larger audience.

Deepor beel is a birdwatcher’s paradise as ornithologists have recorded about 219 species of birds in this area. These include egrets, pond herons, storks, cormorants and pelicans. Several species of red-vented bulbul, sparrows, drongos, hoopoes, woodpeckers are also seen off-shore. In winter Deepor beel turns into a haven for migratory birds as over 70 species of birds come in for breeding, in search of food or warmer climate. Siberian crane, barn swallow, Asian open-billed storks, pied wagtails, yellow wagtails and several varieties of ducks and other birds are recorded to have been seen here. Ruddy Shelduck, common Shelduck, red crested pochard, common pochard, grey leg goose, bareheaded goose, green sandpiper, spotbilled duck, pintailed duck, shoveller, Indian tern etc. have also taken shelter from time to time in Brahmaputra and its islets including Deepor beel.

Ruddy Shelduck
Source: Surjya Kumar Chetia

The migratory birds arrive in India in two batches – winter migrants from October to April, and summer migrants from March to August. They can be seen in both protected and non- protected rural and urban areas. According to sources, the bird species which visit Assam during summer include Asian koel, black crowned night heron, Eurasian golden Oriole, comb duck, blue- cheeked bee eater, cuckoos, scops owl etc.

The migratory birds play a very special role in sustaining the eco-system. When birds swim in the water, the surface film on the water is broken which helps in penetration of sunlight deep into the water. As a result the bottom fauna grows well which are the main food for fishes. The beel is a source of livelihood for the people of the many villages in its precincts. Freshwater fish is the main source of income for these communities but they know their limits too. The beel plays an important role is sustaining the eco-system of the area and so they preserve it well by not over-fishing. The cases of land cutting, waste disposal and the likes have also been put to check by the locals.

Deepor beel gives one the perfect solace from the bustling city life. The one advantage for anyone who wants to visit this place is that you don’t have to plan separately for it. You simply need to pack your camera and a pair of binoculars, and spare a few hours from your set schedule and you are good to go. If you are an ardent birdwatcher then you would love the calm of this place.

The Na-Khua tradition – Thanksgiving in Assamese culture

O mur dharitri ai,

soronote diba thai

Khetiokor nistar nai,

mati bin oxohai

Doya kora doyaxila ai

……..

……..

Mati ke xaboti dhori

Mati ke sarothi kori

Matir bukut sunit dhalu

Jironi pahori

Dhoritri ai mur

Amak tumi neriba

Tumar seneh bine ai

Ami nirupai

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika

Assam is mainly an agriculture based economy and the farmers consider this land as their mother, the one who nurtures them. They forget all pain and toil incessantly to nurture the land which is their only source of livelihood. They pray to her to keep blessing them with good crop every year and thus nurture them. In the above song composed by our very own Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, this plight of the farmers is highlighted.

Since agriculture is the main source of livelihood in Assam so naturally a good crop is the reward for all farmers. And as thanksgiving to Mother Nature the Na- khua festival is organised. It is a lesser known tradition in Assam followed religiously by a few ethnic communities and a certain section of the society. It is like a community feast organised to celebrate the first meal of the fresh new harvest. The winter crop starts coming in by the month of Aghun ( mid-November to mid-December) according to the Assamese calendar and Na- khua is organised in this month.

A traditional Assamese platter
Source: Kaberi Gogoi Deka

Na-khua is a combination of two Assamese words, Na means new and khua means the act of eating. This is an extensive meal prepared in the traditional way with local ingredients from the local markets. Sometimes these ingredients are home grown in our own little farms. There’s a lot to learn and taste in such community feasts and is a good opportunity for those who would like to learn about Assamese food. The best part is that these dishes are cooked in firewood which gives a different flavour to the dish.

The dishes prepared in Na-khua are very elaborate and so I thought it better to discuss about the same with someone who has good knowledge of it. I got in contact with a home chef based in Guwahati, Kaberi Gogoi Deka who is very passionate about cooking and has won quite a few cooking competitions here in Guwahati. Her food related posts in social media are very interesting. She cooks the perfect pithas ( rice cakes) and has in depth knowledge of Assamese cuisine. She told me that Na- khua is actually synonymous with a few signature dishes like Haah manxho kumura ( duck with ash gourd), mati mah kath alu ( black gram and yam) , bora saul tora patot diya ( sticky rice wrapped in tora leaf) etc. These, in fact, are compulsory cooks apart from a variety of other dishes which may vary. Other typical ethnic dishes include gahori manxho khorikat diya ( pork barbecue), borolia maas khorikat diya ( fish barbecue), lai xaak bhaji ( mustard green), alu bilahi pitika ( mashed potato and baby tomato) and the list goes on.

Sticky rice wrapped in Tora leaf
Source: Kaberi Gogoi Deka

Na-khua, however, is organised in a different manner at my in- law’s place which was very novel to me. I witnessed a proper Na-khua ceremony of the Deodhai class of the Ahom community with elaborate rituals after my marriage. Na-khua is also called Mritokor hokaam by them because the food is first offered to the ancestors (grihadam) with full rituals as a kind of Thanksgiving to them. Xajpani is the most important requirement for every occasion in the Ahom Deodhai community. So about two weeks ahead of the set date ( in the month of Aghun) the mixture for xajpani is prepared and kept aside for fermentation. Another requirement for the ceremony is red hens which are also offered to the ancestors. The number of hens depended on the number of expired members of the family. A special kind of plate was made from bamboo for offering the food which is called the mehenga.

The food for the offering is prepared in the kitchen and it is very unique. The compulsory dishes are : bhapot diya bora saul ( steamed sticky rice), mati mah kath alu ( black gram and yam), gahori laixaak ( pork with mustard greens), ou-tenga borali maas ( a fish variety with elephant apple), goroi maas pura ( a variety of fish roasted over fire), kukura pura ( chicken roasted over fire) and our indispensable Xajpani.

The offering for ancestors on Na-khua

The Deodhai purohits perform the rituals uttering prayers in Tai language. They invoke the ancestors, express gratitude and seek blessings on behalf of all the family members. After the rituals a part of the offering is handed to the family members for them to share and eat. It is only after the rituals are over that the purohits and other guests present sit down for the meal. Xajpani is also served to everyone present. Along with all the dishes already mentioned there are few others which are very popular like haah kumura ( duck with ash gourd), masor petu (fish intestines), kukura petu ( chicken intestines), haah petu ( duck intestines), kol posola ( banana shoot).

Na-khua basically is a fun tradition but certain ethnic communities do have set rules or rituals. It is all about eating a hearty meal after the toil at the agricultural fields bear fruit and farmers are blessed with a good crop.

Maha Shivratri and Shivdol of Heritage Sivasagar

Shivdol
Source: templepurohit.com

Shivdol is a group of structures on the banks of the Sivasagar tank, also known as Borpukhuri, in Sivasagar, Assam. It comprises of three different temples namely Shivdol meaning temple of Lord Shiva, Vishnudol meaning temple of Lord Vishnu and Devidol meaning temple of Goddess Durga. Lord Shiva along with Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma form the holy trinity (trimurti) of Hinduism. Lord Shiva is responsible for the destruction of the Universe, with the goal of recreating it.

Located in the heart of the city of Sivasagar the Shivdol is a popular destination for pilgrims. Tourists and pilgrims come from around the country to offer prayers to Lord Shiva. The temple stands tall at 104 feet high and is said to be the tallest Shiva temple in North East India. Situated at the topmost part of the temple is a golden dome called Kolosi which is seven feet tall.

Mahashivratri meaning the great night of Shiva is the most important festival celebrated here on the new moon day in the month of Magha according to the Hindu calendar. The origin of this festival is not very clear and there are different versions. Some believe it to be the marriage consummation of Lord Shiva with Goddess Parvati. According to another belief Shivratri is celebrated as the day when Lord Shiva saved the world from the pot of poison that emerged from the ocean during Samudra Manthan. Devotees visit the temples and offer milk, fruits, flowers, fresh leaves and sweets to the shrine. Ardent devotees also remain awake throughout the night and engage in chanting prayers, or meditating. Some also keep fast to please Lord Shiva and receive his blessings.

Sadhus on the occasion of Mahashivratri at Shivdol
Source : Swarnav Borgohain

A special prasad made on the occasion of Mahashivratri is the bhang laddo or bhang lassi which is an edible preparation of cannabis. This is basically a cannabis infused sweet or drink and is the highlight of the festival. Bhang is said to be Lord Shiva’s favourite food. After having spent one night sleeping under this plant’s leaves, he ate it in the morning and feels refreshed. It is widely believed that since then Bhang became his favourite food.

Shivratri in Sivasagar is said to have been celebrated since the construction of the Shivdol by Queen Ambika, second wife of Swargadeo Siva Singha in 1731. Every year during Mahashivratri a huge mela or fair is organised over a few days and pilgrims and tourists alike visit from far and wide to offer their prayers as well as take part in the celebrations. This coming year Mahashivratri falls on February 21st, 2020 and as usual festivities and fairs are expected to be arranged for the occasion. The brightly illuminated temple standing on the banks of the Borpukhuri ( Sivasagar tank) is the most pleasant sight to see at night, with people bustling around the fair surrounding the temple walls on all sides.

Night view of Shivdol with the Sivasagar lake
Source: flickr.com

Sivasagar is a place of rich cultural heritage and great historic importance in Assam as it was the capital of the Ahom kingdom who ruled Assam for glorious six hundred years. It was earlier known as Rangpur and got its current name after its then ruler Swargadeo Shiva Singha. Sivasagar is home to some the most amazing historical monuments in Assam built during the Ahom rule. These include Ranghar, Talatal ghar, Kareng ghar which in a way boasts of the glorious Ahom reign.

In my earlier post on Talatal ghar, I have mentioned in details how to get to Sivasagar and other related information. There is a lot to visit and explore in this historic place called Sivasagar when it comes to history, architecture and culture which would definitely leave you enriched.

Magh Bihu – Harvest Festival of Assam

Buffalo fight on the occasion of Magh Bihu
Source: asianage.com

Magh Bihu is known as the harvest festival of Assam. It is celebrated in the month of Magha marking the end of the harvest season in Assam. It falls around mid- January and is a time of abundance which we celebrate with lot of festivities and feasting. Hence this Bihu is also called Bhogali Bihu derived from the word Bhog meaning eating and enjoying.

My reminiscence of Bhogali Bihu goes back to the days when we spent the Bihu eve beside the fire till midnight guarding our kitchen garden which my father nurtured with great care. My father used to grow vegetables in the little piece of land he had which mainly included potato and black gram ( mati mah ). Apart from these he also planted cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, bottle gourd, baby tomato, parsley, etc. in very small quantities. So it was naturally our duty to protect it from the local youngsters during the Uruka night which is the Bihu eve.

For those who might be wondering why we need to guard our kitchen garden on Bihu eve. Well, in Assam it’s like a tradition during Uruka night of Bhogali Bihu to steal from the neighbourhood gardens and farms. The more logical explanation of this tradition is that in villages the cowherd used to spend the entire Uruka night guarding the harvest in the granary and also the Meji built for the early morning of the Bihu. January in Assam is cold and to keep themselves warm the cowherd used to steal wood and bamboo from their neighbour’s field to light a fire. They also stole vegetables to satisfy their hunger throughout the night. This is more like a fun tradition and was an open secret for both parties involved. There were no fights later on for the theft done.

A simple bhelaghor. Source: reddit.com

These festivities and traditions were not restricted to the villages only but also celebrated with much enthusiasm in the towns and cities of Assam as well. I grew up in the small town of Dibrugarh and just like the cowherd guarding their granary in the villages, we guarded our small kitchen gardens.

Bhogali Bihu starts on the Uruka night when a community feast is organised in villages and towns alike to celebrate the end of the harvest season. People get together and contribute to arrange for the grand feast, the highlight being the new harvest of rice and of course our very own Xajpani in some cases, the impotance of which I have described in detail if you follow the link given. Men, women and children all help with preparation for the feast. We sing, dance and enjoy to our heart’s content rejoicing at the good harvest we are bestowed with God’s grace. Bhogali means feasting and merriment and we live up to its name.

A Bhelaghor is a makeshift hut made with the haystack of the harvest fields for the Uruka. It is here that the cowherd spend their night and eat their feast. In the earlier days this hut was made in as simple a way as possible. But with time the artistic minds of people have taken the art of making bhelaghor to the next level.

Modern day Bhelaghor
Source: hindustantimes.com

A Meji is a massive bonfire made of wood, bamboo and haystack for the morning of the main Bihu day. We get up early in the morning, take our bath and offer our prayers by lighting this Meji. We also offer pitha or rice cakes, betel nut to the sacred fire in thanksgivings. Some also offer Mah-karai, a special mixture of roasted rice and black gram to the fire which is considered auspicious too. This mixture is later also eaten by the people along with other delicacies like a variety of pitha, jolpaan etc. The makeshift bhelaghor is also burnt down along with the meji.

Our society Meji in Guwahati

The Bhogali festivities continue for a few days with family and friends visiting each other. A variety of pitha or rice cakes are made by the ladies to treat their guests. A traditional way to treat guests is to serve xurum, xando or sira Jolpaan with curd and gud ( jaggery). Pithas included til pitha, tel pitha, steamed pitha, til ladu, coconut ladu etc. served with xajpani. Sometimes the ladies get together as a community and prepare them on the Uruka night.

Assamese jolpaan and pitha served during Bihu. Source: nenow.in

Buffalo fight is another important aspect of the Magh Bihu festival. Such fights are still organised in some parts of the State and people in large numbers gather to witness these iconic fights. However, with the risk involved there has been a gradual decrease in such fights. This one time I was travelling to my hometown for Magh Bihu I happened to witness a buffalo fight somewhere in Nagaon, Assam. The dust in the air, the massive crowd hinted at the majesticity of the event.

Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu is considered the second most important festival in Assam after the Rongali Bihu or Bohaag Bihu. In a state where agriculture is the main source of livelihood, where a majority of the population rely on farming the Bhogali Bihu holds a very special place in our hearts. The sweat and tears of the farmers bear fruit and this calls for nothing but celebration.