Gamocha : A Symbol of Assamese Life and Culture

Literally Gamusa or Gamosa or Gamocha means a cloth to wipe the body: Ga (body), Mocha (wipe). It is a piece of cloth having multiple uses and meanings. But, it is not merely an item of multipurpose physical convenience. Its services extend far beyond the body into the sphere of mind and soul. Gamocha is an indispensable part of Assamese life and culture with its distinctive symbolic significance. As a symbol of friendship, love, regards, warmth, hospitality, Gamocha is intricately and intimately woven into the social fabric of Assam. The significant importance of Gamocha in socio-cultural life of the people of Assam can easily be appreciated from the different names it has, one for each of its varied utilities.

Gamocha is a cotton handwoven textile item traditionally in white with red as side and cross borders. Generally one end is ornamented with a cross border of floral design and the other end is finished with a plain border of the same colour.

Gamocha in general of the size 1.5×0.75 metre, with or without any designed cross border is traditionally used as towel to wipe the body. As Bihuwan, Gamocha has its specific importance among the indigenous textile item of Assam. As the name implies, Bihuwan derives its importance in view of its association with Bohag Bihu alias Rongali Bihu, the focal and gayest of the fastivals of Assam. It is the festival in which the onset of Assamese New Year in the month of Bohag (mid April) is celebrated. On this occation, Gamocha in the form of Bihuwan is invariably given generally to the male members as cermonial expression of respect for age, affection for the young and love between young men and women, however poor a family may be. Wearing of Gamocha before celebration of Bohag Bihu was a specific feature of Assamese culture which is still a distinctive feature of rural life in Assam.

Gamocha as Tangali of the size 2.00×0.50 metres. Presently used to grace the waist of the Bihu dancer as a girdle has its significance as another type of Bihuwan. Gamocha is also used as turban cloth by men on  such  festive occations with the flaps flaunting at the side. Gamocha occupies its importance as an additional item of dress too. On festive or ceremonial occasions it is neatly folded and worn around the neck.

There is also a secred significance attached to Gamocha. It is woven with all purity for the purpose of using on the Thapona (alter) in the Naamghor of Assamese Vaishnavites. In such case, it is known as Gosainkapoor (God’s cloth) which is richly decorated with designs, traditionally meant only for this cloth.

It is customary to welcome the dignitary in Assam always with a Phulam (ornamented floral designs) Gamocha being offered in a special style as a garlanding the guest with warmth, love and regards. It then becomes a souvenir of reverence and oneness, no matter from which corner of the globe the guest comes, what his language is or what his culture is. Amalgamated with such multihued thoughts, emotions and gestures, the Gamocha has acquired distinctive symbolic significance as an identity by itself for the socio-cultural life of the people of Assam.
A republished article from BGT Travel Photography
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