Xaj Pani – The Drink of Assam

What is Xaj Pani?

Xaj Pani is a name known to almost everyone from Assam, a culturally rich state from Northeastern part of India. But for those who have no idea what it is, do read further. Also, if you already know what it is, how about a little revision?

Xaj Pani is Rice Beer made of fermented rice and a mix of rare species of herbs. However, the process and ingredients to make it differ from household to household.

Xaj is known to be the drink of the Ahoms and plays an important role in their socio-cultural lives. But nowadays Xaj is not distinctive of the Ahoms people only. People from other ethnicities and communities also relish and even prepare this at their homes irrespective of it being an Ahom dish. Xaj has become more like the “Drink of Assam”.

Xaj Pani offered in a bowl
Xaj Pani – Drink of Assam

Source – assamtribune.com

When and where do you drink Xaj Pani?

Xaj Pani is offered by the Ahom community to their forefathers to please them and seek their blessings. Special ceremonies are held during childbirth, marriage, and even funeral. These are called Na- Purushor Hokaam or Mritakar Hokaam meaning ceremonial offering to the forefathers. Since Xaj is the main element in these ceremonies, we also call them Xajor Hokaam. It is believed that such rituals ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to the family with the blessings of the forefathers.

Apart from these ceremonies, Xaj is also prepared during Bhogali Bihu, the harvest festival, and during Rongali Bihu as well by people of these communities. This is offered as a welcome drink to guests during Bihu along with other varieties of mouth-watering delicacies.

First experience with Xaj Pani

From a personal standpoint, I have been a part of quite a few of these ceremonies, and in my opinion, these ceremonies are very elaborate.

My first experience as I remember was during Na- khua which is basically the meal after the first batch of harvest comes in. Normally during Na-khua, people get together to organize a feast with the fresh harvest of paddy. People arrange such feasts according to their convenience after the harvest is done.

Xajpani offering
Source: Runjun Konwar Gogoi

My experience with Na- khua was a little different. Our Na- khua was organized at home and guests were invited along with Tai Ahom purohits.

Around two weeks prior to the set date, my late father-in-law made arrangements to ferment the rice adding some seeds (unknown to me). He chose the Bara chawoul, a sticky variety of rice, steamed it and added the secret ingredient. He then left the mixture to ferment for a few days. I saw that he added little water after 3 – 4 days without touching the mixture. This I believe is done to keep the mixture moist.

On the day of Na- khua, he strained the mixture at first and then added water to the mixture. The initial liquid obtained is called Rohiand the final product after adding water is called Xaj. We then gave some offerings to our forefathers. Among many other special items/offering made was Xaj. Prayers were offered and rituals were performed, after which the purohits drink Xaj. Only after the rituals were complete, others sat for their feast. Xaj was later served to everyone present.

Why Xaj Pani is so important?

Xaj is one of the most favorite drinks in Assam. It is naturally loaded with a variety of probiotics and has great therapeutic values.

Till now Xaj Pani was a household drink, but very soon this will hit the market as Heritage Alcoholic Beverage. Some reliable official sources say that an MoU has been signed for this purpose between Assam Agriculture University and a private organization giving production rights to the latter. A pilot project has already been initiated to mass-produce Xaj Pani with standardized ingredients and process.

Great! When should I visit Assam to taste this awesome drink?

If you are planning for a trip to Assam, do visit during Rongali Bihu, which falls around mid-April, as it would be the best time to visit and personally witness the rich culture of Assam. People of Assam will always welcome you with open arms and warm hearts.

The scintillating song of the cuckoo, the gorgeous green nature, the reverberation of the traditional Dhol in the distance, the mesmerizingly beautiful dancing muses will make your heart flutter.

The warm hospitality that you will receive here would make you feel at home. And what more than a glass of our heritage Xaj to cheer you up.

Cheers to this unique TASTE OF ASSAM!

Bogibeel Bridge at sunset

Bogibeel Bridge – A Symbol of Hope for a Better Future

Bogibeel Bridge at sunset
Bogibeel Bridge at sunset

This spring I had the pleasure of visiting my hometown Dibrugarh after 13 long months. Spring is very special to us in Assam because with the advent of spring comes Bihu, the Assamese New Year. This Bihu was more special because my 3 months young baby was visiting his paternal as well as maternal grandparents for the first time. I decided to take this opportunity to visit a few tourist destinations with my baby to create memories together. And one destination which was on my list was the recently inaugurated Bogibeel bridge. So while I was at my parents’ place in Dibrugarh I seized the opportunity to take a ride over the bridge.

Bogibeel bridge is built over the mighty river the Brahmaputra and connecting the two major districts of Assam, Dhemaji and Dibrugarh are symbolic of hope for a better future. The other day I came across a poem written by Will Allen Dromgoole, ‘The Bridge Builder’ where an old pilgrim after crossing a river in high tide decides to build a bridge to pave the way for those who have to take that path in the future. His fellow pilgrim was not too positive about this step of his and asked him

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,

“You are wasting your strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day,

You never again will pass this way;

You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide,

Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

The old man, the bridge builder replied

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said

“There followed after me to-day

A youth whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm which has been as naught to me

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

The poem promotes the idea of building links for the future and passing the torch along for the next generation. In the same context the Bogibeel bridge has paved the way for progress and prosperity for the people of the region. Heavy flood during monsoon in the region brings life to a standstill, especially the northern bank. Connectivity is lost and assistance becomes next to impossible. The bridge is like a lifeline from this point of view. It is totally upon the people of this region as to how they use this bridge to overcome their obstacles and hardships.

Bogibeel Bridge from an intersecting line and direction perspective

A photographer’s view of Bogibeel Bridge

Bogibeel bridge is a combined road and rail bridge with a length of 4.94 kms. It is situated at a distance of 17 kms from Dibrugarh town. The rail line is double line broad gauge, and the road way is 3 lane. The Bogibeel bridge is the only bridge in India to be built by Steel-Concrete Composite Girders keeping in view the heavy flood in the region. It provides connectivity to nearly five million people residing in upper Assam and neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh. The bridge also connects NH 37 and NH 52, and has reduced 705 kms by railroad and 150 kms by roadway to Itanagar. Bogibeel bridge is the 6th bridge over the river Brahmaputra after taking into account the new Saraighat bridge. The construction of the bridge started in 2002 which was finally completed on December 2018. One definite advantage the bridge has given to the people of Dhemaji is easy access to Assam Medical College Hospital located in the Dibrugarh district. Earlier the only way to reach Dibrugarh was to take a ferry across the river which took quite sometime considering the commute time to and from the jetty and the travel time on the ferry. In my opinion, the other advantages for the people of Dhemaji are easy commute to Dibrugarh Airport and Dibrugarh University. Majuli, the largest river island in the world is a popular tourist destination in Assam. The Satras in the island and the geography of the place has attracted many researchers from around the world. Earlier it took around 9 hours to reach Majuli via waterways, which has now been reduced to 4 hours via Bogibeel bridge. In the coming years Bogibeel bridge will definitely help promote commerce, trade and tourism.

Author and her child Nevaan on top of Bogibeel Bridge

Me and Nevaan on top of Bogibeel Bridge

For those willing to be mesmerised by the beauty of the tea gardens, the mountains, the rivers, pack your bag and take a flight to Dibrugarh away from the hustle and bustle of city lives. Hotels, lodges and even homestays are available in Dibrugarh. Uber and Ola rides are not in service here but cabs are available for conveyance. Summer in Assam is sweaty and hot, monsoon is humid and experience heavy rainfall. October to April are the best months to visit Assam when the weather is pleasant and the mood is festive.

Pic credit: Swarnav Borgohain

India’s longest bridge – Dhola Sadiya bridge

In Assamese we have a very popular song sung by the exponent of folk and traditional music of Assam, Late Shri Khagen Mahanta:

” Ma ami Sadiyaloi jamei, Ma ami xotphul khamei.

Bandhim ami bandhim Ma kesa patot lun.

Ma sai thaka sun…”

I remember listening to this song in the radio many a times in my childhood. Sun kissed sunday afternoons, we would all sit on the grass anxiously waiting for our special sunday lunch, and the melodious tune in the distant radio would waver our hearts to wander into the wilderness. In the song a child assures his mother that one day he would definitely visit the distant land of Sadiya to satisfy his curiosity about that place. He has heard a lot about the exotic flowers that grow in abundance there, and longs to eat those. He even expresses his desire to go further and bathe in the Tsangpo river which originates in Tibet and create memories of a lifetime. Allegorically the song captures a child’s eternal curiosity to explore for himself the world unknown, something which is distant yet appealing to him. Sadiya is a place located in the farthest border region of Assam and communication was very difficult in the earlier days because of lack of transportation. So to go to Sadiya meant to cross all obstacles and march forward just like the journey of life and reaching it meant achieving success. But in the present scenario it takes hardly a few minutes now to cross the Lohit river to reach Sadiya. The Dhola-Sadiya bridge built across the Lohit river, which is a tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra, has made communication to Sadiya and Arunachal Pradesh much easier now.

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The bridge is 9.15 km in length and is the longest in India till date. It has been named after the music maestro of Assam who had gained worldwide recognition, Late Dr Bhupen Hazarika as ‘Dr Bhupen Hazarika Setu’. It connects Sadiya town in Assam’s Tinsukia district with Dhola village, also in Assam. The bridge has reduced the travel time between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh from six hours to one hour. From Tinsukia town it takes around one and a half hour to cover the 63.7 kms distance to the bridge via NH15 and NH115.

After covering 82 kms from Dhola one would reach Rowing in Arunachal Pradesh which is one of the most attractive destination for tourists. The charm of riding your own bike across the bridge, appreciating the beauty of the green mountains( snow covered in winters) at the distant horizon, the eternal blue of the Lohit river,the kiss of the light breeze on your face is a very refreshing experience in its own way.

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The Dhola Sadiya bridge is a must visit not as a destination but as the beginning of an adventure to the luscious green Mountains, the snow covered lakes, the beauty and simplicity of the local villages. Its people, their food, culture and way of life are worth the experience. The bridge defies all barriers and paves the way for a stronger political, economic, cultural and social Assam.

Pic courtesy: Swarnav Borgohain @ https://www.instagram.com/i_mkaku/

The Best Gift from my Dad

When I was quite young, my dad gave me a gift…..a poem. It was an invaluable piece of advice from a father to his young daughter who had yet to experience life. I feel proud to say that I remember it till date by heart and feel happy to share it with you all.

Plain living and high thinking,

That’s what should be your aim in life.

Never daunted but ever ahead,

That’s how you can win in strife.

That’s only my advice

To you my little daughter

What more can you expect 

From your dearest father.

father3

My father used to write revolutionary poems in his youth. As a kid I remember he narrated for us lines from Shakespeare’s plays and we were like, ” Wow, dad is so good in literature.” Inspite of his vernacular educational background, it was dad whom we looked upto, or run for help with our English homeworks and assignments, especially grammar. He was like our proof reader, our editor. Even today I am scared to show my write ups lest he finds some mistakes. So inspired by my dad here is my first poem ever:

ILLUSION

O’ blithe soul!
The envoy of peace
How blessed you are, indeed!
The blue sky is all yours, all birds your cohort,
And a carefree and blissful life you live.
Athwart the sea, over the mountains,
Beyond the horizon you fly,
Praising His creation, cursing man
You utter- fie human fie!

pigeon2

Indomitable, unstoppable, fiery you are
Unlike me, trapped in life’s mire.
I take a leap….fall…and lurch.
They consider me to be fluky
And are in praise at my fate
But they fail to see the sting,
Which i suffer and hate.

pigeon

How i wish to fly like you!
to explore the splendor all through
to feel the breeze and touch the sky
and sing songs of love true.
But dreams are a sham
And man a mere marionette
His fate is in submission
And life an illusion!

Thank you! Hope you like it! Please try and overlook my mistakes, if any.

Pic courtesy: Google