Jaapi and Xorai: The Traditional Symbols of the Assamese Culture
Author: Namita Trilok Chandra
India is a vast country. From different languages to various cultures and religions, India is a perfect mix of everything. Every culture in India has its symbolic representations, festivals, dance forms, and even outlooks on religion. One such culture which is not spoken about too much but is extremely beautiful is the traditional symbols in Assam like Jaapi and Xorai.
Culture of Assam
Assam may seem like it is a small place but like they say amazing things come in small packages, Assam is a perfect example. There are people from various ethnicities and backgrounds such as Mongolian people, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian, and even the Aryan people. The place is filled with wonderful and exotic inputs from all these ethnicities to form stand-out cultures in the state.
However, the most interesting part is that the roots of the cultures also come from the diverse tribes that live in Assam. The wonderful part is even though a caste system and different religious beliefs exist, the discrimination is not prominent. Many elements are used to express their beliefs, feelings, pride, etc. They are all considered symbolic representations of Assamese traditions. Some of the standout symbols are Jaapi and Xorai.
Jaapi is a beautiful conical hat that is worn in Assam. The cap looks a little like the Asian Conical caps. The word Jaapi comes from the words Jaap which means a bundle of taku leaves. From being used on farmer’s heads to worn as a status symbol by the royal families, Jaapi has made a huge impact on the people in Assam and their culture.
The rise of Jaapi in Assam
Assam first saw the rise of Jaapi when Xuanzang, a Chinese monk who visited Assam. He was welcomed with a colorful Jaapi. The medieval period also saw Jaapi take a prominent place in the culture especially amongst the Chutia Kings. The last Chutia King, Nitipal decided to spread the tradition by gifting Jaapis with gold and silver embroidery to the Ahom King in 1523 AD. The Ahom king loved the Jaapis so much that he began gifting them to negotiate peace with the Nora Chief.
When the Ahom kingdom came into ruling. Jaapi-Hajiya Jhel was monopolized by the Chutia kingdom. This move led to the Chutia kingdom announcing that they were the experts when it came to weaving the Jaapis, The Baro-Bhuyans from Central Assam also found their traditions in Jaapis. The Ahom Kings took inspiration from the Baro-Bhuyans and adopted Tongali, Hasoti, and Tokou-patia Japi.
The uses of Jaapi
Jaapi, a conical cap used to negotiate peace amongst kings is now a traditional and cultural symbol in Assam. The Jaapi is worn in a certain style of Bihu dance and is also used as protection against elements. The conical cap is also offered as a sign of respect in various ceremonies and is also placed around a home as a welcome sign. Jaapi was first used as a headgear for farmers to protect them from the sun and rain.
The Bodo-Kacharis, the anthropological tribe of Assam have agriculture as their main profession. They work in rice fields and use Jaapi as their headgear. Bishnu Prasad Pabha went on to add Jaapi dance to the Assamese culture in a movie from Bodo community. The Jaapi is used by brides, farmers, and even in the royal families.
Types of Jaapi
There are various types of Jaapis. Each one has its own use but the tradition they carry is the same. The Sorudoi Jaapi is used by women at their weddings. The Bordoi Jaapi is the one the royal families use and has been seen since ancient times.
The Panidoi or the Haluwa Jaapi is used in the field of agriculture. The Garakhiya Jaapi is used by the cattle herders. Pitha Jaapi is used as hoods and the Tupi Jaapi also known as the Varun Jaapi is used as protection hats against the rain.
Xorai is a beautiful offering tray that comes with a stand. The tray sometimes may have a cover. This simple structure may just be an ornament to us but to the people of Assam, it is a huge symbol that represents their traditions and culture. The Assamese people have taken Symbolism very seriously in their culture. They find the need to hand on historical artifacts over centuries and Xorai is one of those elements.
The uses of Xorai in the Assamese Culture
The Xorai has uses that are mostly related to religious offerings. They are taken place during the dance, Bihu, and even while gifting someone or to guests. Hajo and Sarthebari which are religious towns in Assam are the centers for traditional bell-metal and brass crafts in Assam. Most of the Xorai are made in these centers.
Xorai is used as an offering tray for tamul-pan which is a mix of betel nuts and betel leaves. This is given to guests as a sign of welcoming them into homes and to say thank you for blessing the homes with their presence. The Xorai is also used as a tray to offer food or other items that are placed in front of an altar in religious practices. This is seen in temples as well.
The Xorai is also used as a decorative symbol in traditional functions during the Bihu Dance. The rise of Xorai in Bihu was seen during modern times. Another modern use of Xorai is when people gift other people as an honor or a token of appreciation during felicitations.
Xorai and Jaapi: Symbols of Assamese traditions
Both Xorai and Jaapi are important symbolic representations of the traditions in Assam. They both are used together in many Assamese cultures, especially during a Bihu dance performance. It is important to spread awareness about this beautiful culture all over the world. A sense of pride that such an amazing tradition found its roots in India and expresses a whole state of people and all their communities, religions, and castes. It is also important for people to raise their voice for local traditions and culture rather than run behind western cultures. What we have in India is beautiful and can take the world by storm