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Month-long Exhibition of Assamese Culture & Heritage Educates Silicon Valley

The event was held at the India Community Center (ICC:, Milpitas, California, USA. The entire month of April, 2004 was designated as Assam and Manipur Month at ICC, where Assamese and Manipuri culture and heritage was on display. The enthusiastic volunteers of the Bay Area Assamese and Manipur community put their dynamism together and started their preparations from the month of February with weekly meetings. The month of April was selected because it coincided with Bohag Bihu celebrations, which meant spirits were high among the community members at this time. Assam and Manipur Month was sponsored by, SAP, the software giant from Germany.
The Assamese community in the Bay Area started the initial planning in February. As the planning started it was thought that it would be a good idea to include if possible all the other six sister states of North Eastern India. Manipur was the only other state, which had a substantial presence, and thus came forward and joined this effort.

The manifestation of all the planning took shape on 3rd of April 2004, at the Indian Community Center (ICC) in Milpitas, California to showcase the rich culture of Assam and Manipur. The ICC was transformed, making it take on a museum like ambience. Mannequins adorned in traditional Assamese muga silk with bright red woven design and Manipuri bridal dresses greeted visitors at the entrance of the ICC. In front of them lay a table with 3 dimensional topographical maps of Assam and the six sisters. There was an amazingly authentic village scene recreated using all local materials. There was a thatch hut complete with a “dheki”. Beside it was the Manipuri art and crafts display and together, it gave all visitors a very inside looks into the rural scene of Assam and Manipur. Other parts of ICC were adorned with genuine fabrics, jewelry and other decorative items, which brought out the rich culture and heritage of the North East (NE) region of India. People emptied their personal wardrobe and bared their house walls to put up the exhibition. There was also some life-like pencil sketches of literary and political luminaries from Assam of the past and present. Pictures of manuscripts (Sansi paat), monuments and relics of Assam adorned the wall spaces of ICC. There were
displays of the various National Parks like Kaziranga and Manas as well as the various flora and fauna of the North East. Taken together as a whole, it was an amazing exposition of creativity from the Assamese and Manipur community who worked as a group and proved that given the passion and the zeal, putting up such a professional display is indeed possible, even with the myriad other tasks that they have on a day to day level.

The highlight of the Assam and Manipur month was the Assam/Manipur cultural event held on the 18th of April. The day started off with a technical seminar on IT opportunities in the North East. There was traditional Assamese food complete with “pitha” etc., for people to sample. The food was so well liked that people wanted to know if there was an Assamese restaurant that they could visit. The colorful show started with an opening welcome followed by an address by the president and founder of ICC, Anil Godhwani. He complimented the Assamese and Manipur community and said “I think it is fabulous (the decorations). It is remarkable that all of this work has been done by about 25 to 30 families …, which is incredible”. The cultural show was a combination of graceful dances and melodious songs. While the laid back dances of the Goalporiya fisherwomen and the graceful and classical Satriya Nritya displayed the richness of Assam, the lyrical Raas Lila and the tremendously energetic bamboo dance introduced the audience to classic Manipuri culture. There was even a traditional dress exhibition which was made even more enjoyable by the fact that the children of the community modeled them. Of course, any cultural function to showcase songs from the region would be incomplete without Dr. Bhupen Hazarika’s songs and as usual, these songs brought everyone to their feet. The grand finale was the “Hushori” and Bihu dance performance, exceptionally performed by members of the community, replete with individual performances of the “gogona”, “mohor singhar pepa” and the “dhol”.

All this was possible because of the initiative taken by the ICC management to develop creative ways to bring together the diverse Indian groups that are present in the Bay Area and give them the opportunity to interact with different cultural groups and get to know India’s rich cultural heritage. One other very important comment made by the Trustees and Board members of ICC was that the Assam and Manipur month celebration had raised the bar for future celebrations at ICC. It was a major effort by the small Assamese and Manipuri communities living in the Bay Area. A major impact of this exhibition was that there was a great interest shown in visiting the North Eastern part of India as well as in purchasing some of the items on display like the Assamese silk etc.

On a different note the traditional Bohag Bihu celebration was on the 17th of April with a picnic at the Ed Levin park in Milpitas, California followed by a cultural function at ICC. The Bay Area Assamese community was host to people that came from Southern California for this celebration.

Contributed by Jugma Bora
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