Sunday, April 20, 2008
It is a month of festivals here in Assam. A few days ago marked Indian New Year, known locally as Bihu. It’s 1930: The country began their calendar some years after the Christians and follows a lunar month.
The Assamese dance to dhols (traditional drums), banhi (bamboo flute), pepa (a curved brass and buffalo horn woodwind), also using bamboo sticks and large cymbals for percussion. Musicians, priests from nearby Hindu temples, and village dance troupes chant and sing day and night in traditional dress. They sometimes appear at the door in the wee hours—and all must rise, come out to watch and listen—and offer a few rupees when they finish. If the donation is deemed too small, the troupe begins again, drumming and singing louder and longer. The money goes to support the temples or for village improvements.
This is by no means some hollow shell of a ritual only performed for tourists. Ninety-five percent of the travelers to Kaziranga are Indians from other parts of the country here to see rhinos and tigers and elephants. There is a strong movement to keep ancient traditions vital. Even young children know these dances and tiny boys bang on drums as big as they are, taught as toddlers.
We ended the day today by visiting a Krishna temple that sits on the main highway. Most passersby stop for a quick prayer or a real puja, and truck drivers either toss coins or jump out, offer a few rupees, grab a handful of incense and roar off. We watch, shoot pictures, pray; make a quick stop in the open-stall market, head back to our lodge for a beer, samosas, dahl soup—and early sleep. Our 5:00 AM rise comes early.