Monday, 17 February 2014

The 3rd Element of Assamese Symbolism

Areca nut (Tamul)
 The humble areca nut or "Tamul", is a widely grown nut in almost all typical Assamese households. It is as if, without this nut tree, an Assamese household is not complete! Extensively chewed by both young and old, it is a part of the Assamese way of life.

Betel leaf
The betel leaf  or "Paan", compliments the "Tamul", and together with a dash of lime, spread on the betel leaf, make up what is called "Tamul Paan".

Saplings of this leaf are planted methodically or allowed to grow on the "Tamul" tree, as a creeper or vine and in some instances, this leaf grows wild.

There is nothing fancy or exotic about the "Tamul or Paan", in its normal state of usage. Consumed as a combination by many, it is just another habit forming practise, without any significance attached to it. It is so commonly used by people, that, to understand its symbolic importance in the Assamese culture, becomes quite confusing.

But this lowly nut and simple leaf, takes on a whole new grandeur during certain occasions of the Assamese people.  

The whole "Tamul" and "Paan" when offered on a "Xorai" draped with a "Gamocha", exudes an aura of sombreness, reverence, respect and a feeling of welcomeness. The simplicity of the nut and leaf are transformed. They become symbols of reverence and respect to those being offered. And it is expected that, to those who are being offered, receive it with utmost humility and respect also.

This transformation of the betel nut and betel leaf, is even more pronounced during festivals and religious ceremonies. Devotees dressed in their traditional Assamese attire, offer the "Tamul" and "Paan" on a sparkling "Xorai" draped with a "Gamocha" as obeisance to the deities on bended knees and bowed heads.

Wedding invitations in the typical Assamese culture, mandates that it be done with whole "Tamul" and "Paan". There is no fancy wedding invitation cards sent out to the invitees, but rather, people are personally invited by offering of this nut and leaf.

Guests are welcomed with this traditional symbol and offered pieces of the nut and leaf after a meal.

Symbolism is an integral part of Assamese culture. And the three elements, namely, the "Gamocha", "Xorai" and "Tamul Paan" are inter-woven with the Assamese way of life! 

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