Long hidden behind red tape, Assam`s beauty is a fact that defies imagination. The rarest of flora and fauna, blue hills and green tea, a bustling capital and black oil, it is a beauty that soothes even as it disturbs. Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan bound Assam in the north, Nagaland to the east, and Manipur and Mizoram to the south. In the southwest, Assam touches the borders of West Bengal and Bangladesh.
There is one ensemble that can be called the traditional costume of the Assamese women. It is known as the "mekhala and chadar". The dresses of most Assamese women, whichever tribe they may belong to, can be called variations of the mekhala and chadar.
Assam is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent and prestigious being muga, the golden silk exclusive only to this state. Muga apart, there is paat, as also eri, the latter being used in manufacture of warm clothes for winter. Of a naturally rich golden colour, muga is the finest of Indias wild silks. It is produced only in Assam.
The women of Assam weave fairy tales in their looms. Skill to weave was the primary qualification of a young girl for her eligibility for marriage. This perhaps explains why Assam has the largest concentration of Handlooms and weavers in India. One of the worlds finest artistic traditions finds expression in their exquisitely woven `Eri`, `Muga` and `Pat` fabrics.
The traditional handloom silks still hold their own in world markets They score over factory-made silks in the richness of their textures and designs, in their individuality, character and classic beauty. No two handwoven silks are exactly alike. Personality of the weaver, her hereditary skill, her innate senses of colour and balances all help to create a unique product.
Today, India exports a wide variety of silks to western Europe and the United States, especially as exclusive furnishing fabrics. Boutiques and fashion houses, designers and interior decorators have the advantage of getting custom-woven fabrics in the designs, weaves and colours of their choice. A service that ensures an exclusive product not easily repeatable by competitors.The Tribals on the other hand have a wide variety of colourful costumes, some of which have earned International repute through the export market.
Every Assamese woman can weave cloths on the loom. Weaving is an intrinsic part of the traditional village life.Weaving in Assam is so replete with artistic sensibility and so intimately linked to folk life that Gandhiji, during his famous tour to promote khadi and swadeshi, was so moved that he remarked : "Assamese women weave fairy tales in their clothes!"
Although Assam is well known as a major area of silk production, complex weaving techniques and dense figural decoration are not features usually associated with the region. Tribal groups incorporate some simple extra weft geometric designs into silk cloths, but most of the silk textiles produced there have traditionally been plain, undeyed length. A complicated Lampa technique is carried out in Assam with the range of cloth discussed.
Traditionally men folk of plains wear mill- made dhuties and small or big sized sola/fatua (shirt) and vest or eri-chaddar. In villages, rich men use headgear. They use japi (hat) while working in paddy fields. The young boys use dhuti, genji only on some occasions but they prefer using western dresses. The Assamese wear bare foot. The Assamese ladies enter the kitchen bare foot. The Assamese young boys use on occasion`s headgears with their gomacha, which they tie to their hip, especially when they are dancing in Bihu to cover the waist with the dhuti. Some young men use Khaddar clothes.
Assamese women use riha-mekhela-Sadar. The long flowing skirt up to the ankles is known as mekhela and the upper garment riha. The red coloured pattern at the end of the riha is graceful and symbolic. Designs are also found in the pari (border) of mekhela and riha. It is said that the dress of mehkela and the riha chaddar has been adopted from the Tibetan and Burmese women. Some are of the opinion that the long back saree was the dress of the Assamese women. The bride of lower Assam use saree in the marriage ceremony. However, some Assamese ladies have started using saree at home and outside, as it is cheaper than mekhela chaddar. Ladies of Goalpara, Gouripur, and Dhubri area prefer sari for both outside and for home.
The Bodo ladies of Kokrajhar, Darrang, Sonitpur etc. use Dakhna, which is different from Mehkela-riha-Sador. Generally, dakhna has yellow colour body with some design in brown colour etc. ladies do not use headgear. Married women cover their head with one end of the riha-sador and it is called orni or ghumta. The Hindu married ladies put vermilion on their forehead and on the parting of combed hair and wear bangles made of shell. Women wear mekhela covering waist and ankle. Riha cover the upper part. They wear sador to cover the upper part and use blouse and bodice. Assamese Muslims also use same dresses except vermilion.