Gamusa: For the love, respect of and soul of an Assamese
One of the most recognisable cultural symbols of Assam, the gamosa, also known as the gamusa or gamucha, is white rectangular piece of cloth, around 4 feet in height and 2 feet in width, has beautiful red floral and geometrical designs embroidered on the sides.
The embroidered red patterns are sometimes inspired by nature and comprise of jungle scenes, peacock motifs and flowers, while sometimes they depict Bihu dancers or motifs like the ‘japi.’
The gamosa is essentially made up of two words—‘ga’ which means body and ‘mosa’ which means to wipe.
However, it is more than a simple towel.
Gamosa is a “representation of the Assamese culture and something that symbolizes love and respect and is ideally used by all irrespective of religious and ethnic backgrounds.”
The gamosa is also gifted as a symbol of respect.
Although there are silk variants as well, gamosas are mostly made from cotton, and here are four common variants:
1) Pani gamosa: ‘Pani’ gamosas are made from coarse cotton and perfect for wiping off water or sweat from the body. They are often used by farmers while they work in fields.
2) Tamul gamosa: Tamul is the Assamese word for betel nut, which is served along with paan to guests when they visit an Assamese household. The paan and Tamul are served on the gamosa which is placed on the xorai, an Assamese stand tray made from bell metal.
The tamul gamosa is also used to cover holy scripture in the prayer halls known as ‘naam ghors’ which have an additional structure inside, known as the ‘monikut,’ which translates as ‘the jewelled hut’ which houses different idols. This monikut is also covered with the gamosa as a symbol of respect.
3) Bihuwan or the Phulam gamosa: This gamosa is given to guests as a sign of respect during the Bihu festival.
4) Anakata gamosa: The fourth type of gamosa is used during ceremonies and occasions of importance in one’s life like a marriage of a birthday. The fascinating trait of this type of gamosa is that it is taken out of the tatxal (handloom) without being cut. Here, the threads of gamosa signify the bonds in one’s life which should not be broken; hence, this type of gamosa is not cut when the process of weaving is complete.
Apart from its cultural significance, the gamosa also provides employment to several weavers in Assam’s villages like Sualkuchi and Tinsukia among others.
In 2017, due to threat from powerloom-made imported gamosas flooding the market, the State Handloom and Textiles Directorate applied for a Geographical Indication (GI) tag, and efforts are underway to secure it soon.
As is evident, the gamosa is no ordinary piece of cloth, and is indispensable for its functionality and beauty that never go out of style!
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