Acculturation Among the Mishings                                              Page :36

 
Dr. Jatin
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Dr. Jatin
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I

The process of cultural contact and interaction between the tribes and the non-tribes, and between the little and the great tradition Redfield :1955)is not a new phenomenon in Assam. The tribes of North-East, in the traditional Indian Texts were called 'Kirata' (Borua: 1951; Chaterji:1951).As indicated in the Mahabharata, their king Bhagadatta participated in the war at Kurukschetra. Historically, this area was ruled by Varman(4th to 8th Century A.D.), Pal (11th to 12th centuryA.D.), Baro Bhuyan(12th to 13th century), Chutia (13th to 16th centuryA.D.),Ahom (13th to 19th centuryA.D.), Koch (16th to17th centuryA.D.),and Kachari (16th to19th centuryA.D.) dynasties (Gait : 1905). Ethnically, most of these dynasties belonged to the different tribal communities which were Hinduised in the course of time through cultural contact and interaction (Dubey : 1978).
             To understand the nature of acculturation among the Mishings, we shall have to keep in mind three phases of their socio-cultural life. In the first phases, they were hill dwellers in the Adi Area of today's Arunachal Pradesh. At the second phase, they moved to the plains of Assam. At the third phase, they came in contact with their neighbours and adopted their religion (Hinduism), language (Assamese) and polity. After their migration to the plains, the Mishings developed interaction with other tribes (Kacharis, Mikirs, Boro-Kacharis) and castes (Hinduism, Assamese population). The process of cultural interaction may be explained in terms of the growing relationship between the macro ( tribal isolated villages), middle (regional economy, culture and polity) and micro(mythology, beliefs, worship, ideology and caste system) levels.
     To analyse the process of acculturation, we can take the help of the theoretical framework as explained through the concept of the dominant and the weak cultures (Mead: 1932, Herskovitz: 1938) and the little and great traditions(Redfield: 1955).
      (a)    As explained by Mead and Herskovitz, the contact between the dominant and the weak cultures leads to the disorganization of the religious practices and the traditional life styles of the latter. It creates marginality among the members of the weak culture.
     (b)    In certain situations, the people belonging to the weak culture, try to find out the common elements between their culture and the dominant culture.
     (c)     As pointed out by Redfield, the interaction between the little community(tribes),peasant societies and great traditions(elite languages, mythology and organised  religion) leads to acculturation which breaks the isolation, self-sufficiency and homogeneous nature of the little community.
      The above theoretical framework provided a base for our analysis.
   In this chapter, our main focus is on the following points:
     (a)      What changes occured among the Mishings after their contact with           Hinduism?How did they try to adjust their traditional belief system and forms    of   worship with growing impact of Hinduism ?                                                                                 
     (b)   To what extent, they have adopted Assamese language in the place of    their  own dialect?
     (c) What changes have occurred in their dress, housing pattern, tools and 
            implements due to the impact of the regional culture?
                                                     II
The process of religious contact made the Mishings a part of the regional culture and of the regional culture and of the great tradition of Hinduism. Before their advent in the plains,the Mishings were animists.Even today,the traditional pattern of worship is not fully  abandoned among them.
           In the villages under study,the Mishings practise traditional patterns of worship even though they are Hindus.It has been mentioned earlier that their main deities are the Sun and the Moon(Donyee-po:lo) and they recite the name of the deities in every puja and festival.In this context,it can be mentioned that the Vaishnava Gosains(clergy and preachers)and satras(monasteries)are responsible for their conversion to Hinduism(Goswami : 1972). Of course,except the tribal rituals, customs and institutions, the Mishings are similar to the non-tribal Assamese which was reflected even in early writings(see Michell,1883 : 239).Now-a-days, a considerable number of the mishings have been converted into bhagavatia or mahapuruhia(based on the docteines of Shri Sankardev)sects of Hinduism.The process of transformation from the trivial forms of worship to Hinduism is an interesting phenomenon among the Mishings.Hinduism has introduced new priests (Gosain,Bhakats,Hattulas,Satradhikar),new institutions (Namghar,Satra),new mythologies,a new value-system,pattern of stratification (caste) and the notion of purity and pollution through restriction on food and drinks.
           In the place of primitive religion,now-a-days,the religion of the Mishings is popularly known as Kewalia,Kalsanghati or Nisamalia.These sects are the popular folk level practices of Hinduism.Through these sects also,the mishings have aligned themselves with the non-tribal regional peasant culture.These folk level religious beliefs and practices have helped them in adjusting their tribal practices with the local Hindu beliefs and practices.
           The adoption of Hinduism led to the emergence of a new group of priests amd clergy known as the Bhakatas and the Hattulas.Formerly, the Mibu or the Miri, the primitive Mishing priest, was the main person to look after all Pujas and festivals.Now-a-days the Bhakats and the Hattulas,though not necessarily the Brahmins,have been playing the role of preachers, priests and clergy. The introduction of  Hindu priests has adversely affected the position of traditional tribal priests known as Mibu or Miri.      
                The Vaishnavism in Assam centres around Namghar (the place of worship in every village) and Satras (monasteries). Now, in Mishing villages,there are Namghars and the Mishing villagers belong to the  different Satras.There are more than two hundred Satras in Assam.Through this process  also the Mishings are now the part of regional culture.Now they are the part of an institutionalised religious order.
            At the popular level, different sects of Hinduism have emerged in Assamese villages in general and the tribal communities in particular.They may be divided into Nisamalia or Kewal Dharma ( worshipper of Goddess or Shakti) and Bhagawatia ( followers of the principles of Shrimad Bhagavat) as propounded by Sankardev.
            The Nisamalia sect (a mixture of tribal rituals and Hinduism) is known also as ,Ratikhowa Dharma, Gupta Dharma and Amaya Bhakati.The contact with the Gosains (priests) of the Satras (monasteries) of Assam is the main reason for the growth of this sect among the Mishings.
            The Sadhu Bura or the Bhakats are now the head of all religious activities of the Mishings.They are ordained into Bhakats by the Gosains of Satras after proper ritual performance.The position of Kencha Bhakat (raw or unripe),is slightly lower than Poka Bhakat(ripe disciple).With the advent of Namghar in Mishing villages, the Murong (dormitory) has gradually lost its importance.On the one hand,contacts with Hinduism have led to the emergence of new religious institutions and functionaries.On the other hand , it has helped in the growth of new religious organisations also.The followers of Bhagawatia sect have formed Shankar Sangha which has been playing an important role in the propagation of Vaishnavism.It has encouraged social service in some selected pockets.

 

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