Mighty Barak; originating from Naga hills it flows through vast tracts of land before entering Bangladesh. The land crisscrossed by Barak and its innumerous tributaries is known as Barak Valley.
Before the advent of British rule, the valley was ruled by Dimasa kings. Dimasa kings like Kirtichandra and Gobindachandra were ardent lovers of art and culture and patronized many artists to settle here permanently. Those settlers contributed immensely in developing rich treasures of art and culture of Barak Valley.
The valley is inhabited by several linguistically, ethnically and culturally diverse groups like Dimasas, Hmars, Mizos, Bengali Hindus and muslims. But such diverse cultures never clashed but actually assimilated to form a greater society whose culture is as unique as diverse.
Nearly 80% of the population of Barak Valley live in villages and mainstay of rural economy is agriculture.
The village folk live in total harmony with nature. Though there are many divisions on religious lines but culturally the society of Barak Valley is closely knotted.
For time immortal a close-knit society for its day-to-day activities or to ease arduous labour of exploring mother nature developed various forms of song and dance. From nascent stages of human civilization, folk dances are considered as creative expression of day-to-day living of human beings. The joy and sorrow, hope and despair etc. find its true expression in folk culture of any particular community. Like other parts of India, creativity found its best expression in folk culture of Barak Valley.
One of the most popular folk dances of Barak Valley is Dhamail. Experts say that name Dhamail may have been derived from Sanskrit word Dhaman meaning vigour. Others are of the opinion that the word have been derived from Sanskrit Dhaban meaning quick stepping or running. Though Dhamail is a group dance mainly performed by women folk, their male counterparts can also participate in it. The dance is performed on many occasions like wedding, child-birth, homecoming of newly wedded couple etc. Dhamail reflects closeness of our rural society.
Folk culture of Barak Valley has greatly been influenced from muslim tradition. During the 17th century Sufi saint Hazrat Shahjalal introduced Islam in Bengal. The preaching of unity, amity, fraternity and brotherhood by Shahjalal and his followers resulted into Aul, Baul, Pir and Fakiri culture which had a wide range of effect on folk traditions of Barak Valley. A very popular folk dance among muslims of Barak Valley is Jari dance. Jari means sorrow or tear. Jari dance is performed during Muharram commemorating tragic death of Hassan and Hussain in Karbala.
Another popular folk tradition among populace of Barak Valley is Gazi dance. Till the middle of 20th century this unique folk culture was very popular and source of entertainment for people of this region, but unfortunately this unique form of dance is near extinct today.
A major portion of population of Barak Valley is Bengali speaking Hindus and Muslims. In both the communities, the worshiping of two local deities are very popular. The Muslims worship Bonbibi and the Hindus worship Monosha, the snake Goddess.
A vast tract of land of Barak Valley and adjoining Surma Valley is marshy and full of swamps which are infested by several species of snakes and out of fear of inviting wrath of snakes, people worship snake Goddess Monosha during the month of Shravana. A particular sect of people who depict tales from Monosha Mangal are known as Ojha. The Ojha’s wear typical headgear and costumes and narrate Monosha mangal through their unique style of singing and dancing.
Chaitra is the last month of Bengali calendar. A most popular folk culture of this month is Charak or Gazan. The name Charak was actually derived from Sanskrit word Chakra or the cycle. As per ancient belief a full solar cycle is completed in Chaitra Sankranti, the last day of the month of Chaitra and a new solar cycle is started. Many experts feel that Charak is actually a rain invoking festival of primitive people.
Apart from majority population of Bengalis several other small tribal groups like Dimasas, Hmars, Mizos, Nagas and Manipuris also inhabit Barak Valley and their rich cultural heritage has immensely contributed to the rich folk treasure of Barak Valley.
(An extract from a synopsis written by Lt. Biswajit Choudhury. He was one of the most renowned script-writer and Dramatist of Barak Valley)