Accepted paper:

Re-scripting Ahom identity: The politics and aesthetics of Chaklong marriage


Mehzabeen Hussain (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Paper short abstract:

Chaklong is the traditional Ahom marriage ceremony. This paper focuses on the aesthetics and politics of performing Chaklong marriage rites as part of a wider process of revitalizing and asserting Ahom identity within contemporary Assamese society.

Paper long abstract:

Chaklong is the 'traditional' wedding ritual performed by Ahoms ever since their ancestors first migrated to the Brahmaputra valley at the beginning of the 13th century. Chaklong marriage essentially is a synchretic ritual which has incorporated various non-Tai-Ahom elements and styles in response to the socio-cultural, religious and political processes that have shaped Ahom identity over a period of several centuries. In recent decades the influence of globalised market forces which have replaced locally produced cultural artefacts with imported goods as well as an all-pervasive media (films, TV soap operas, wedding websites) with its proliferation of images of idealized styles that in many ways reflect India's changing social fabric, have left their mark on Chaklong marriage. Thus, for example, gifts given during "Man Dhara" (a ritualized gift giving ceremony performed during Chaklong) no longer include locally produced goods such as hand woven clothes but have been replaced by mobile phones made in China, imported watches and branded T-shirts. Other players who significantly feature in the process of re-scripting Chaklong are Ahom religious leaders, who, supported by a young, urbanized, educated and professional elite, actively promote the re-scripting of Chaklong marriage, attempting thereby to re-emphasise its 'original' Thai-Buddhist content and style. The reworking of the aesthetics of Chaklong marriage mirrors also in significant ways the desire by Ahoms to revitalise and re-assert a distinctive socio-cultural identity within Assamese society. The attempt to re-script traditional Chaklong marriage and thus Ahom identity identifies aesthetics as a powerful player in the realm of politics.

panel P48
Weddings: identity and aesthetics in a globalising consumer world