Starting from the ancient period of the Varmanas to the present era, Assam holds a legacy of aesthetic quality in its craftsmanship and traditional artwork. Be it in the field of woodwork, metal work, weaving or pottery, all enrich the cultural heritage of the State. It has been praised in the writings of early historians like Shihabuddin Talish in his Fathia-i-Ibriyah, in which he wrote, "Probably nowhere else in the whole world can wooden houses be built with such decoration and figure-carving as by the people of this land…
Terracotta, which is one of the oldest crafts, is found to have flourished in Assam. The largest cluster of terracotta and pottery in the entire North-East of India is at Asharikandi of Dhubri district that can be linked to the terracotta artefacts discovered from the period of the Indus Valley Civilization. At the sites related to the Harappan Civilisation, very sophisticated terracotta items have been found, that include those in the form of real and mythical animals. Similarly, the terracotta crafts of Asharikandi also have some unique qualities and exquisite artistry that reflect a 100-year-old rich heritage, replete with themes related to age-old traditions, beliefs, rituals, etc. A special kind of soil, called Hiramati, collected from the banks of the river Gadadhar (a tributary of the Brahmaputra), is considered the heart and soul of this craft.
During the rainy season of Ahar (Ashar), the low-lying areas are flooded and the craftsmen had to endure a lot to dry up, burn and store the craft items. As a result, they shed tears of grief – which is called Kandi in Assamese. The name of the place is, thus, believed to be derived from the words Ashar and Kandi. Sarala Bala Devi, a renowned terracotta artist from Asharikandi village, received the President's Award in 1982 for her excellent creation of terracotta dolls called Hatima Putul which has won national and international repute. Hatima Putul is a mother with elephant-like ears and a baby on her lap, which is a unique kind of craft style specialized only by craft-workers of Asharikandi. The bountiful wealth of Assam filled with an abundance of natural resources can be traced back to the ancient and medieval ages. Talish recorded that the Ahom capital was encompassed by bamboo plantations, running continuously for several miles. In the present scenario, the bamboo craft of Assam can also facilitate the growth of our economic sector. The greatly revered Assamese traditional hat called the japiis made chiefly from bamboo and has an aesthetic and cultural significance in Assamese society. Our craftsmen make various decorative items out of bamboo.The same goes for the cane industry. As mentioned by Banabhatta in the Harshacharita, the famous Sitalpati (coolmat) is made from murta — a plant of the reed family or patidai.
Silk fabrics of Assam are famous worldwide. According to genetic researchers, the two specific regions where the muga silkworm originated are the Garo Hills of ancient Kamarupa and the Dhakuakhana region. The golden muga silkworm, Antheraea assamensis, is the pride of Assam, that feeds on the leaves of som and soalu. Over 95 per cent of the muga silk production in India is contributed by Assam. Even the history of Assam reveals that Ahoms had long been accustomed to the technique of production of silk in the Brahmaputra Valley. During the reign of Pratap Singha, Momai Tamuli Barbarua made it obligatory for every household to spin and weave. Again, during Siva Singha's reign, Queen Sarbeshwari is said to have encouraged spinning and weaving by the women. Even now, the weavers must be encouraged and given incentive packages so that they won't lose their zeal for weaving. The hand-loom industry of Assam is not just an economic boon but it also exemplifies the vertebrae of Assamese culture and society.
There are other industries like the bell metal industry of Sarthebari, jewellery craft, etc., that can also play a major role in shaping the economy of the State. Assam is nowhere behind in possessing the capability of reaching the zenith of economic progress by accelerating the pace of production of its local handicrafts. However, this can be well-formulated only if both the people and the government carry out their own responsibility, considering this as a collaborative effort. Export promotion must be encouraged by spreading awareness and removing barriers of outmoded trade practices. Let us join hands to usher in economic progress in Assam.