With caricature booths, handloom exhibitions and cane craft stalls, creative minds from Assam showcased their works to sensitise visitors about their region and raise their voice about their problems. This marked the start of Rongali, a three-day festival, here as singer Papon laid a musical pitch to celebrate the diversity of the state.
The first day of the cultural extravaganza, held at Veterinary Ground, Khanapara here on Friday, was dedicated to the traditional and rural beats of the state.
Hailing from Assam, Angaraag Mahanta aka Papon has found a foothold in Bollywood with popular songs like "Moh moh ke dhaage", "Khamma ghani" and "Sun le re" to his credit. His popularity could be sensed as the crowd gravitated to the stage like a moth to a flame after the announcement of his performance.
His band East India Company is credited with reviving interest in folk music from the North East and for melding folk tunes from the region with electronic music. It was all about fusion as a wave of music ushered in with the group. They dominated the crowd's emotions by taking the music to high and low pitches.
Other than some popular Assamese songs, Papon crooned tracks like "Kyun", "Jiyein kyun" and "Kaun mera" looking casual in a blue shirt with a tinge of orange and denims.
Apart from his tunes and melodious voice, he teased the audience by returning flying kissing and casual winks.
The evening also saw performances by band NorthEast Breeze, a singer from Mising community Tarulata Kutum, Sajan Nayak (Tea Tribe) and Manas Robin.
"The fest will take Assam's culture and tradition to the tourists. The problem is that the main point that connects Assam to the rest of India is very narrow; another problem that arises is language barrier. But with Rongali, tourists will come close to the people of Assam," Rupam Bhuyan, one of the eight members of NorthEast Breeze, told IANS.
Kutum feels that there are multiple problems in Assam.
"I cannot list them out as it will take long. For instance, artists are not able to go outside the state to look for opportunities due to lack of funds. We need government support," she told IANS after performing at the event.
There were varied opinions about the problems of the state. While Kutum exuded optimism by saying "Assam will get better with government supporting the culture" through the fest, Assamese actress Barsha Rani Bishaya, who was anchoring the show, minced no words in pointing out that the government is not helping the film industry.
"If we talk about entertainment industry, the actors are completely neglected. Assam film industry is dying with most of the theatres shut. The only option with the actors is mobile theatre, which is very lucrative. We tour around Assam and do live performances.
"Government is doing nothing for the film industry. We want mini cinema halls for a market where movies can run," Barsha said.
The festival resonates a carnival feel with all the merriment and exuberance around it. But it also provides a platform to people to present their handloom, art and culture.
The traditional outfit Mekhela chador for women and gamcha for men was found in abundance in different hues, works and fabrics like silk and cotton.
Talking about the handloom market of Assam, Nibedita Goswami Mahanta, one of the exhibitors, said: " The technique has changed a little bit, but the handwork remains the same. The biggest obstacle in our growth is that it is very expensive. People like our stuff, but after knowing the price they get reluctant to spend that much."
To satiate one's foodie spirit, one could relish authentic Assamese delicacies like silkworm fry, snail or sunga pork. Or just sip tea from bamboo cups to get a feel of the tribal life of Assam.
The festival was formally inaugurated by Minister, Tourism, Government of Assam Sumitra Patir, who termed Rongali as a revolutionary step to promote tourism and build bridges.
The festival, being organised by a socio-cultural trust of Assam Trend MMS in association with Hotel and Restaurants Association of Assam, Assam Tourism, Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Assam, and Ministry of Youth Affairs, Government of India, promises to get bigger in the days to come with performances by artists like Zubeen Garg and rock band Indian Ocean.
(The writer's visit has been sponsored by the festival's organisers. Sugandha Rawal can be contacted at email@example.com)