Thursday, February 12, 2015

Guwahati and Shillong - A lecture, a field visit, a wedding and a holiday. Days 1 and 2

I have been very blessed in my friends and students and time after time they prove this to me.

Thanks to the girls from my BHM days at KC College I have been invited to weddings at many a exotic cities and locales. A few years back I was in Jaipur for a wedding, last year (2014) I was in Cochin and this year I was invited to Guwahati!

We (Rhea and I) got in touch with a dear old friend, Sukanya Sharma, who teaches Archaeology at IIT Guwahati and let her know we were going to be in her neck of the woods for a wedding in late Jan early Feb. She immediately laid down the law that we would be putting up with her and no one else. She then very hesitantly asked if I would speak to her students about my excavations. I promptly agreed.

We flew in to Guwahati on the 28th of Jan and went to IIT where Sukanya had set us up in the Guest House. I went off at 3pm to lecture to the students and staff of IIT and Rhea went off with Polly Bora (an FB friend) to tour the markets of Guwahati. I had a great time speaking about my work and then Sukanya dropped me back at the guest house, I was knackered and crashed early.

We woke up to the sound of ducks quacking on a lake in front of our room and it was a nice crisp Assam winter morn.

The view of the lake from our room at the Guest House


Good morning Guwahati!

  Sukanya cam and grabbed us soon after breakfast and took us on a whirlwind tour of Guwahati. Enroute we stopped at the IIT gate to cach up with another FB friend Poorna who was here with her sisiter for the local IIT Fest! Small world what?


Rhea and Poorna

We went off to see the Brahmaputra from the Annexe of one of the great Vaishnava Ashramas of Assam. The original is situated on Majuli, the largest riverine island in the world, but is endangered by erosion so over a hundred years ago the Vaishnava monks shifted some of their greatest relics here and constructed a backup location. It was a beautiful and tranquil place.

A stray medieval temple member unearthed whilst making the Ashrama and now lying about casually.

The dormitory for the student monks

Rhea and Sukanya looking out at the Brahmaputra


 Sukanya then proceeded to haul us to a fantastic local lunch at Bor Luit.We ate Local Chicken in Black Sesame, Duck in Fresh Bamboo shoot,a Fish Tenga all of this with Joha Rice and lovely local condiments.


Olive pickle, Kagzi Limes, Green Chillies, Mustard Paste

The food was served in beautiful high tin bronze (Kansha) plates

Joha rice ... a local variety of fragrant rice

 From Left to Right ... Fish (Carp/Rohu) Tenga (a sour preparation), Duck in fresh Bamboo Shoots (delicious bamboo shoot indifferent duck) and Local Chicken in Black Sesame, an Assamese classic (absolutely delicious!).

After lunch we went off do do some archaeology at a local site. The site of Madan-Kamdev consists of a small site museum (started by Manmohan Singh from his MP funds) and a lovely Medieval temple with small adjacent temples. The site is in dire need of intervention especially since a local group has started worship at the site.

Image in the local museum

Mustard fields ablaze with flowers near Madan-Kamdev.

Amongst the many wonderful insights my journey through archaeology, food and teaching has revealed one of the most interesting has been the spread of the Jain Marwari community.

This is best exemplified in my student Lata whose wedding I was invited to in Guwahati. Though all Jain Marwaris are from the Marwar region of Rajasthan they have spread to every nook and corner of India in the pursuit of commerce. Lata's father (and immediate family) are based in Phuentsoling, Bhutan and her husband's family is based in Guwahati ... both places a far cry and distance from Rajasthan. This enterprising community has spread all over the world and has yet managed to keepits roots firmly in place. The wedding in Guwahati was a grand two day affair very much in keeping with Jain Marwari traditions.

Day 1 (29th evening) was a Sangeet and both sides of the wedding party had practiced dances, skits, poetry and singing ... a gala performance was put forth and there were some really lovely moments especially Lata's mother singing a beautiful song about their impending separation.

Rhea and I were treated like royalty and Lata's bothers and parents looked after us extremely well. I was very moved by what they said.

Lata's sister in law was the MC of the Sangeet

Lata and Dilip surrounded by family