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:
(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
(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
The above theoretical framework provided a base for our
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?
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
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.
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.