India is a country of rich cultural diversity where 22 officially recognised languages and over 1650 dialects are spoken across 29 states and 7 union territories, as in 2019. The 2011 Census of India last listed 1369 ‘mother tongues’, however, our country has been a witness to a great number of tongues over the centuries. One such distinctive and culturally rich language is Bodo.

Northeast India has long been a favourite go-to destination for all those looking for natural beauty, the mountains and non-mainstream tourism. But did you know that the Peoples’ Linguistic Survey of India claimed there are close to 100 living languages spoken in the five states of Northeast India alone? Assam and Meghalaya’s natural pristine beauty, oriental-splashed monasteries, living root bridges, tea gardens, hilly terrains, stunning waterfalls and indigenous handicrafts are known to all, but how many of us really know about the languages spoken in this region? Well then, time to brush up on some language trivia!


The what, the where, the how many

Bodo (pronounced ‘Bo-Ro’), or also referred to as Mech, is the Sino-Tibetan language spoken primarily by the Bodo people of Northeast India, Nepal and Bengal. It is the official language of Bodoland and the co-official language of Assam and Meghalaya, while also spoken in Bangladesh.

Closely related to the Dimasa language (Assam), Garo language (Meghalaya) and the Kokborok language spoken in Tripura, it is one of the 22 recognised languages given a special constitutional status in India.


History and fun facts

Did you know that Bodo is written using Latin, Devanagari, and Bengali scripts? In fact, till the second decade of the twentieth century, Bodo never had written literature, until the Christian missionaries began publishing works in this language. Since 1963 onwards, Bodo has been written in Devanagari. It was formerly written using Latin and Assamese scripts. Its rich literature now boasts of a large number of books of poetry, drama, short stories, novels, biography, travelogues, children’s literature as well as literary criticism.

Interestingly, it was only after the socio-political awakening that the language was introduced as the medium of instruction in primary schools in Bodo-dominated areas, 1963 onwards. It serves as a medium of instruction up to the secondary level today.


What else do we know about their culture?

The ethnic and linguistic community of the Bodo people residing in this north-eastern part of India, form the largest minority group in Assam. Most of them practice farming or fishing, and their presence was dominant in Assam until about 1825. In fact, the Bodos were farmers for the longest time, living in an agriculturist community with a strong tradition of fishery, poultry, piggery, with rice and jute cultivation, and betel nut plantation.

Speaking of culture, have you ever witnessed the Bagurumba dance? The dances of the Bodos are associated with the Kherai Puja festival where Bagurumba dance is the most popular. It is an important folk dance of Assam, performed by the Bodo tribals, and is full of rhythm and vivacity. It is also known as the “butterfly dance”, since it resembles the graceful movements of birds and butterflies, and it is done promptly after the paddy plantation. In addition to this, Ojapali, Devdasi, and Satriya are other major dancing styles of Assam. Folk dances in general, are incomplete without the Jhumur performed by the Adivasis which is a synchronized dance of boys and girls to the sounds of the drums and the flute.

If you’re gearing up to explore more of Assam, you should also know that it is well known for its tea plantations, and its tea gardens provide employment to nearly a million people in Assam. Timber and bamboo are other primary products from the forests of Assam, and the state is also known for its production of silk material, tussar and other fabrics. Among so many little paradises found in our very own country, Assam is definitely one of them.


Content curated & SmartRead by: Team Vernac
Author: Alifya Thingna