Other States

Gamosa evolves from memento to mask in Assam

Members of an non-profit organisation in Assam have been designing the masks with motifs of the endangered hargila (greater adjutant stork), rhino and elephant to add a dash of wildlife conservation to the protection of human faces.

Members of an non-profit organisation in Assam have been designing the masks with motifs of the endangered hargila (greater adjutant stork), rhino and elephant to add a dash of wildlife conservation to the protection of human faces.  

The ubiquitous decorative cotton towel are being successfully turned into masks to fight COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the ubiquitous gamosa, a decorative cotton towel, evolve from memento to mask.

For Pratibha Das, Mamani Malakar, Rebati Baishya and other members of the non-profit Hargila Army in Pacharia, a village 25 km northwest of Guwahati, sewing the gamosa masks is more than just keeping themselves engaged to beat the lockdown inactivity.

They have been designing the masks with motifs of the endangered hargila (greater adjutant stork), rhino and elephant to add a dash of wildlife conservation to the protection of human faces.

Also read: Armyworm attack adds to COVID-19 woes of Assam farmers

Bihu festival

“We had ordered thousands of gamosas to be made and sold by the women during the Rongali Bihu festival. Since lockdown has put paid to the Bihu celebrations, the women turned the towels into masks for use during the COVID-19 crisis,” Purnima Devi Barman, stork conservationist and founder of the Hargila Army, told The Hindu on Thursday.

The Hargila Army women, however, were not the first to improvise. A Fine Arts student named Phanindra Pradhan had transformed the gamosa after pharmacies in his town Gohpur ran out of masks. In Biswanath district, Gohpur is 290 km northeast of Guwahati.

Also read: Turtle survival rides on handmade towel in Assam

“We wash the gamosas in disinfectant before ironing and stitching them into masks that are sold at ₹50 apiece,” he said, adding that he has been receiving regular orders.

Cultural identity

Assam has traditionally had two types of gamosas — the uka or plain kind used to wipe sweat or dry the body after a bath, and the phulam, which is decorated with floral motifs to be gifted as a memento or during festivals such as Bihu.

Cultural historians say the gamosa came to symbolise Assamese nationalism in 1916 when the Asom Chatra Sanmilan, a students’ organisation was formed, followed by the Assam Sahitya Sabha, a literary body. Wearing the phulam gamosa around the neck became a standard for cultural identity.

“The Assamese way of life is woven in the gamosa, whether plain or decorative. From a cultural symbol, it became a political symbol before designers explored its potential as dress material such as distinctive shirts,” said B.K. Goswami, a retired banker and writer.

Symbol of protest

The gamosa’s graph as a symbol of protest rose during the anti-foreigners Assam Agitation from 1979 to 1985. The extremist United Liberation Front of Asom too used the towel with “revolutionary” motifs.

The gamosa staged a comeback as a political statement with the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act from mid-December 2019. The protests continued intermittently under the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

We have been keeping you up-to-date with information on the developments in India and the world that have a bearing on our health and wellbeing, our lives and livelihoods, during these difficult times. To enable wide dissemination of news that is in public interest, we have increased the number of articles that can be read free, and extended free trial periods. However, we have a request for those who can afford to subscribe: please do. As we fight disinformation and misinformation, and keep apace with the happenings, we need to commit greater resources to news gathering operations. We promise to deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Support Quality Journalism
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 27, 2020 2:46:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/gamosa-evolves-from-memento-to-mask-in-assam/article31301183.ece

Next Story