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Assam

CAPITAL

DISPUR

AREA IN 1000 Sq. km

78,438

PRINCIPAL LANGUAGES

ASSAMESE

It is located in the northeastern part of the country and has an area of 30,285 square miles (78,438 square kilometres). It is bounded to the north by the kingdom of Bhutan and the state of Arunachal Pradesh; to the east by the states of Nagaland and Manipur; to the south by the states of Mizoram and Tripura; and to the west by the state of Meghalaya, Bangladesh, and the state of West Bengal

Assam has a single-chamber legislative assembly with 126 members. The state sends 21 members to the Indian national parliament: 7 to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and 14 to the Lok Sabha (Lower House). Local government is based on 23 administrative districts. Dispur is the Capital of the state.

The Brahmaputra River valley is the dominant physical feature of Assam. The river enters Assam near Sadiya in the extreme northeast and runs westward across the length of Assam for nearly 450 miles before turning south to enter the plains of Bangladesh. The river valley, rarely more than 50 miles wide, is studded with numerous low, isolated hills and ridges that abruptly rise from the plain. The valley, surrounded on all sides, except the west, by mountains and is intersected by many streams and rivulets that flow from the neighboring hills to empty into the Brahmaputra.

The average temperature is moderate, about 84 degrees F (29 degress C) in the hottest month of August. The average valley temperature in January is 61 degrees F (16 degrees C). In this season, the climate of the valley is marked by heavy fogs and a little rain.

Assam does not have the normal Indian hot, dry season. Some rain occurs from March onwards, but the real force of the monsoon winds is faced from June onward. Rainfall in Assam ranks among the highest in the world; its annual rainfall varies from 70 inches in the west to 120 inches per year in the east. Large concentrated during the months from June to September, it often results in widespread destructive floods. Much of the state is covered with dense tropical forests of bamboo and, at higher elevations, evergreens. Common animals of Assam include the elephant, tiger, leopard, rhinoceros, and bear.

History

It is not clear how the name Assam came into existence. The name "Assam" may be derived from the Sanskrit term "Asom" that means unparalleled, or one with no equal. The term "Asom" in Sanskrit also means undulated or uneven. The rugged nature of the land of Assam may also be a reason for her name. In addition, the Ahoms ruled Assam for six hundred years till the early part of the 19th century. The words "Ahom" and "Asom" are pronounced similarly, and hence the Ahoms may also have given Assam its names.

The ancient kingdom of Kamarupa once covered the present state of Assam. Pragjyaisha, the capital, was located near Guwahati. Kamarupa is mentioned as a frontier kingdom and tributary of the Gupta Empire in the Allahabad inscription of Samudra Gupta (A.D. 330-375).

Until the 1200's, the area was ruled by a succession of dynasties, including the Salastamba, the Brahmapala, and the Bhuyan. The Ahoms, a Thai-Buddhist tribe from the southeast, arrived in the area in the early 1200's. They deposed the ruler of the time and established a kingdom with its capital in Sibsagar. By 1353, the Ahoms controlled a major part of the area, which they renamed Assam. The Ahoms adopted the language and Hindu religion of the conquered people and ruled Assam for about 500 years

Internal dissension led to the fall of the Ahom kingdom. In 1771, the British East India Company gave military assistance to the Ahom ruler to quell a revolt. In return, the Company received commercial privileges.

The Ahom Dynasty gradually decayed until a Burmese invasion in 1817, which lasted five years killing one in every three people finishing it off. The British threw out the Burmese and Assam became a part of British India in 1826.

When India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, Assam was divided between the two countries, most of Assam going to India. The old enmities between hill and plain, Hindu and Muslim, tribal and Non-tribal rose and Assam progressively separated into seven northeastern states of today.

Society and Culture

The Assamese are a mixture of Mongolian-Tibetan, Aryan, and Burman ethnic origins. Their official language, which is called Assamese, is closely related to Bengali. An unbroken record of Assamese literary history is traceable from the 14th century. About two-thirds of the Assamese are Hindus, and about a quarter are Muslim. The Muslims are mostly recent settlers from Bangladesh or converts belonging to the lower strata of Hindu society. A majority of the Hindus accept Vaisnavism, which is based on the deity Vishnu. The hilly margins of the plain are inhabited by the hill tribes of the Garo, Khasi, and Hajong. The Bodo are the largest minority group in Assam and are concentrated in the northern areas of the Brahmaputra River valley.

Artist and sculptors, masons and architects, and others practicing minor crafts such as weavers, spinners, potters, goldsmiths, artisanns of ivory, wood, bamboo, cane and hide flourished in Assam from ancient times. The Eri, Muga and Pat are the important silk products of Assam. Weaving is another important aspect of the cultural life of the people of Assam, particularly of the women. Every Assamese house, irrespective of caste, creed, and social status, has at least one loom, and each woman is required to be skilled in producing fine silk and cotton cloths.

The most important celebrations of the state are the three Bihu festivals. Originally agricultural festivals, these are observed with great enthusiasm irrespective of caste, creed, and religious affinity. The Bohag Bihu, celebrated in the spring (usually mid-April) to mark the commencement of the new year (first day of the Bohag or Baisakh month), is the most important one. Also known as Rangali Bihu (rang means merrymaking and fun), it is accompanied by much dancing and singing. On this day women present a hand-woven gamocha (towel) to each family member. The Magh Bihu, celebrated in mid-January (in the month of Magh), is a harvest festival. Known also as Bhogali Bihu (bhog means enjoyment and feasting), it is a time of community feasts and bonfires. The third Bihu festival, the Kati Bihu (in mid-October), is also called the Kangali Bihu (kangali means poor) because by this time of year the house of a common man is without food grains, as the stock is usually consumed before the next harvest.

Economy and Infrastructure

Assam's economy is rural and agricultural. Tea is cultivated in the hilly regions, and the state provides much of the tea grown in India. The valley of the Brahmaputra River is important for rice, the major food product of Assam. Other agricultural products are jute, sugarcane, cotton, oranges, and potatoes. The cultivation of silkworms is common in many areas. Lumber is valuable to the economy of Assam, and the extraction of crude oil is gaining in importance. The primary industries of Assam are textile manufacturing, cement production, and oil refining.

In 1995-96, the total length of roads in Assam was 33,110 km which include 2,070 km of National Highway, 2,177 km of State Highway and 28,861 km of other PWD roads.

Assam is the railway centre of the North East with the total railway tract length of 3,816.15 km comprising both metre gauge and broad gauge lines

Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi airport (Guwahati), Salonibari (Tezpur), Mohanbari (Dibrugarh), Lilabari (Lakhimpur), Kumbhirgram (Silchar) and Rowriah (Jorhat) are the civil airports in the State.

Tourist Centres

Important tourist centres of the state around Guwahati are Kamakhya Temple, Umananda (Peacock Island), Navagraha (Temple of nine planets), Gandhi Mandap, State Zoo, State Museum, Sukreswar Temple, Geeta Mandir, Madan-Kamdev Temple and Saraighat Bridge. In the rest of the state the places of tourist interest are Kaziranga park (famous for one horned rhinos), Sib Sagar (Shiv Temple), Majuli (largest river island in the world), Chandubi lake, Batadrava (Birth place of great Vaishnav Saint Sankardev), and Saulkuchi (renowned for its silk industry).