Tuesday, 18 August 2015

History of Bamboo and Cane Culture in Assam


Assam is rich in sylvan resources and most of its forests are richly stocked with bamboos and canes of various species. Bamboo is a raw material of great versatility and forms an integral part of the lifestyle and economy of Assam. Special mention may however be made of the forests of Mizo Hills, Cachar, Mikir and North Cachar Hills, Nowgong and Lakhimpur districts. While touring in the hill districts, one sometimes wonders at the vast expanses of bamboos and canes. The important species of bamboos of economic value are the Muli (Melocanna bambusoides), Dalu (Teinostachyum dalloa), Khang (Dendrocalmus longispatnus), Kaligoda (Oxytenanthera nigrociliata) and Pecha (Dendrocalamus Hamilton-ii). The Muli and the Dalu have great commercial importance, the former for pulping, constructional and fencing purposes, and the latter for the mat and basket industry.

The making of bamboo and cane products is perhaps the most universal of all the crafts practiced by a large number of artisans scattered throughout the State. It is practiced as a household industry and no mechanical device is used. Cane and bamboo products are used for a wide range of purposes and extensively used in every household.

This industry has carved for itself an important place among the handicrafts of the State. It provides part time employment to the cultivators in their spare time, and full time employment to the few highly skilled artisans who produce only fine decorative baskets, furniture and mats on a commercial basis.

History and Origin

No definite records are available to establish the antiquity, history and origin of this craft in Assam. However, it can be safely assumed that the craft was practiced since the misty past with the very dawn of civilization. In the early period in Assam, bamboo was held with special reference and is forbidden to cut in “auspicious days”. It is a general belief that bamboo possesses auspicious character and is of religious significance.

An idea about the flourishing state of cane and bamboo products of Assam was fond even during the time of Bhaskara Varman (early part of the 7th century A.D.), the king of Assam, may be had from the following extract. (An extract from “The History of Civilization of the People of Assam” by Dr P.C. Chouudhury.)

“Early literature refers to the well-decorated and coloured sital patis (cool mats) used by the rich people. Mats were usually made of cane. The classical writers testify the abundance of cane in the forests of Assam. Ptolemy, for instance, states that to the east of Serica, which we have identified with Assam, there were hills and marshes where canes were grown and used as bridges. Evidence of the production of other cane articles is also supplied by the ‘Harshacharita’, which mentions stools of cane. The cultivation of bamboo and its use for various purposes are well known. Bana again testifies to this highly developed craft. He states that Bhaskara sent to Harsha ‘baskets of variously coloured reeds’, ‘thick bamboo tubes’ and various birds in ‘bamboo cages’. All these prove that various industrial arts were developed in Assam at an early period and were continued to be practiced till recent times, based on that traditions like those of the craftsmen of other parts of India…”

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