Vernacular architecture of Assam

by Nabajit Deka | 2018 | 96,996 words

This study deals with the architecture of Assam (Northeastern India, Easter Himalayas), with special reference to Brahmaputra Valley. The Vernacular Architecture of Assam enjoys a variety of richness in tradition, made possible by the numerous communities and traditional cultures....

Buddhist Communities (d): Tai Aiton Vernacular Architecture

The Aiton or the Aitonian, also called Sham Doania or Shan interpreter, is a small group living in Assam apart from small settlement in Naga Hills. Their original habitat was in the Aiton part on the upper region of the Sindwin River in Burma. Their entry into Assam may be dated towards the latter part of the 18th C (Thakur:1972). There are 5 villages in Karbi Anglong district while there are 3 villages in the Golaghat district with a population of about 3000 (Gohain:2015).

The Aitons had traditional system of selection of land for setting up a village. Thus, in an area where they intend to set up a village, they stay a night above the treetop. In the night, if a certain pair of bird shouts together, then the area is regarded as appropriate to establish a village.

1) The Architecture:

Though Aitons nowadays primarily live in earth-fast architectures, they used to live in stilt houses earlier, constructed on platform that used to be high enough to move a person easily. The existing stilt houses that are seen today are similar to type popularly known as chang- bungalow, primarily constructed of wood. However, they used to construct the houses with thatch and bamboo in earlier days. Traditionally, they construct their houses in north-south direction.

The traditional homesteads consist of a stilt residential house called hoon- hang that is compartmented into number of rooms. However, a house that contains five rooms and constructed with five purlins is traditionally known as hoon- halung- hape. The houses possess a front porch called kang- chan / konok, which is connected with a ladder (khulai / kholai), attached with a handle (maipan). The guests and outsiders are entertained in the kanok. The northernmost room of the house contains the main post of the house and is reserved for the main couple of the house. Any outsider or even the daughter in law is not allowed to enter this room. One of the ends, usually the rear porch contains a domestic altar called chonglik. Sometimes a separate altar known as chongfra is constructed in the homestead. The kitchen (hoon- tung- khao) is constructed separately which is approached through a porch. The kitchen is divided into two rooms. One of the rooms called ti- ntang- khao is used for cooking that contains the fireplace and hearth (hu- ti- fai), sometimes more than one, while the other room called ti- changkhao is the dining room. The kitchen possesses a ledge known as khing- mo to keep utensil while a hanging shelf above the hearth called kha- fai is added to process foodstuff. Outside the kitchen, an open platform called kangchan- tiptomu is constructed using bamboo splits (phuk), which is used as the scullery.

Apart from the residential house, the Aiton homesteads possess a platform granary (jikhoo), a cowshed (khak- wu), and hay stake (hoon- yungyia). The construction technique of the house resembles to other groups. Like the other groups, they set the loom below the platform.

2) Site Selection:

The Aitons select the site for the house through different traditional systems. Thus, in a system, the site is selected through burying of rice like other Tai or Mongoloid groups. For this, they split a bamboo pipe with both nodes into two halves. Then, there put some rice inside one split and close it with the other which is then buried in the site. The pipe is checked later on and intactness of the rice inside the pipe signals the auspiciousness of the site. In another system, the traditional diviner of Pathek is consulted for the selection of site. He selects the site through the system of mangal-choa or kanna, carried out through the consultation of the Tai almanac. He, along with the selection of the site, recommends the auspicious day and time to start the construction. There was another system prevalent in earlier days through which, mainly the availability of the water was checked in the proposed site. In this system, a chaki (an earthen lamp) is kept above the ground and move it to check the availability of water.

3) Foundation Ritual:

The foundation ritual is observed on the planting of the main post (chao- toondung). Like the Khamyang, they also plant this post early in the morning, before the crowing of cock. In the pit of this post, they offer different materials such as gold and silver. Simultaneously, they wrap a white cloth or gamocha at the top of this post.

4) Beliefs Associated with House:

Different folk beliefs and corresponding rituals around the house are prevalent among the Aitons. They construct the main house facing the south or north cardinal direction. Contrary to many tribes, who regard the east cardinal direction as auspicious, the Aitons do not prefer this direction. They believe that if the house faces to the east direction, quarrel occurs frequently in the household. It is so because, the east is the direction of the Sun which remains hot and therefore stimulates the anger. Similarly, the western direction is also avoided believing the direction as direction of death. They also have the custom of connecting a new house with the old house using a rope or seven cotton threads. They believe that this ensures the entry of the spirit of the house from the old house to the new house.

Like other groups, they also regard the house or especially the main chao- toondung post as sacred place. They believe that the Ghar-jeoti or the spirit of the house reside in this post. According to their traditional belief, this post should be made of wood of jamuk (black plum) tree, which is regarded as auspicious. Thus, if for any reason other wood is used in the post, at least a small piece of this tree is inserted into the post. This post is simultaneously regarded as the residing place of the soul of the deceased family members (smathi). They proceed for any auspicious work after praying before this post. In the event of illness of any member of the family, they offer rice, flower in a bowl along with water below this post, and pray in the evening.

In the month of Bohag, during the ceremony of Poi- chung- ken, they take measures to protect the houses from malevolent spirits. For this, people carry some threads along with a pitcher full of water, putting little bit of soil, bent grass, and some mango leaves to the Bihar. During the festival, the Bhante spells magic to the threads and empowers the magical quality to the water and threads. After the festival, the items are brought to home and the water is sprinkled in the house with the leaves, to sanctify the house. After sanctifying the house, the threads are wrapped around the house or else above the entrance of the house. It is believed that this measure acts as a barrier to the evil spirits in entering the house.

5) House Warming Ceremony:

The house warming ceremony takes place in an auspicious day. In the previous evening, it is a tradition to bring a container full of rice along with a pitcher full of water. These things are kept nightlong near the main post of the house. In the following wee hours, the head of the family brings a casket of cloth (toom); keep it near the main post and sits near for some time. After a while, other family members enter the house.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: