Bihu: A Chief Festival in Assam

Bihu is the chief festival in the Assam state of India. It refers to a set of three different festivals: Rongali or Bohag Bihu observed in April, Kongali or Kati Bihu observed in October, and Bhogali or Magh Bihu observed in January. At the end of cold winter months, shivered with cool breezes, trees shed their leaves in this part of the world as well known as Northeastern India, wherein Assam is centrally located in the region. With the first sweeps of south-western monsoon blowing past this region, trees get freshness of revival and new tender leaves emerge in the branches of trees. Migratory birds begin their movement among the new foliage, melodious sounds specially that of cuckoo, Koolie in Assamese, with her unique “Kuooo”, indicating the advent of the spring in this region. In the magical touch of spring nature regains its splendid beauty and vigour, all living beings become instinctive with impulse for procreation at the creative power of spring. Thus the approaching of springtime starts now–a-days in the months of Phagun-Cha’t (Mid Feb-Mid April) of ‘Sakabda’, with Mahavishuvan (Spring-Vernal Equinox) falling on the 20th or 21st March for the last 1,500-2,000 years. Gradual changes in the sky have caused inevitable changes in the natural phenomena every successive year; and plants and animal life have responded to the mild temperature prevailing giving mother earth an earlier springtime look slightly ahead of time with passing of every year. When the nature predicts the approaching of springtime, people in this region feel its warmth, hearts filled with ecstasy, and get prepared for joy and merriment, without distinction to caste-creed, colour, religion and language.
But formally, as astrology defined it long back, we people in Assam as well as Northeast India have been celebrating our Spring Festival from time immemorial popularly known as Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu in the first week of Bohag month, that is, third week of April. Now this traditional Bohag Bihu is a calendaric festival, not a seasonal one in its true sense. As a whole, Bohag Bihu is a primitive agro-based culture of the land and flamboyant with the cultural contributions of diverse races who came to and settled in different parts of Assam with distinctive cultural traits. It marks the beginning of Assamese new year and signifies agricultural rites and rituals of the peasants of Assam. Bohag Bihu is associated with fertility belief and paddy cultivation in Assam. It gives due weightage to plough culture and importance of cattles, specially cows in agricultural practices as shown in its Garu Bihu day through its worshipping taking care and maintenance. In this respect, it has a close similarity with Cwing Mwing festival of China, where each day of the festival is entrusted to a domestic animal. To ensure bountiful harvest and prosperity throughout the year, Assamese people eagerly hope for peace and prosperity in this Assamese festival of new year. Like other harvest festivals of the country, Bihu also involves the farmer community praying God for a good harvest right at the seeding time coupled with hoping for abundance in future as well. The word ‘Bihu‘ is believed to have originated from the word ‘Bishu‘ which means ‘to ask for peace’, the word gradually transformed to ‘Bihu‘ as per the local linguistic preferences. Bohag Bihu is a celebration of spring, colours and revival. This is the traditional Assamese New Year which also signals the start of the fresh harvest season. Bohag Bihu (Rongali Bihu) coincides with other similar festivals like Baisakhi, Vishu as well as Puthuvarusham, the Tamil New Year. Other northeastern states are also having such festivals like Myoko Festival of Apatani Tribe and Mopin Fesival of Galo Tribe of Arunachal Pradesh, the Aoling Festival of Konyak Tribe and Moatsu Festival of Ao Tribe of Nagaland to mention a few. It brings along a lot of festivities, singing and dancing. People celebrate by singing and dancing to the rhythm of traditional Bihugeets. Bohag Bihu is incomplete without several rounds of the famous Bihu dance. Men and women dressed in the beautiful Bihu costumes swing to the beats of the drums in an extremely graceful manner. Brisk foot movements and unique hand poses are characteristics of this wonderful dance form. Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu marks the beginning of the new agricultural calendar. People clad in traditional costumes pay homage to their indigenous roots while hoping for days of bountiful crops and prosperity ahead. Bohag Bihu is the best way to enjoy the Assamese music, dance, handicrafts, and cuisine. Bohag Bihu, like Bhogali Bihu also involves cooking of certain food items like green leafy vegetables (xak) to celebrate the completion of a successful harvest and the abundance of crops. Other food items that assume significance during the festival include coconut, jiggery, rice, sesame,tubers, milk and milk products. A few communities indulge in brewing fresh rice beer and cooking fish and meat. This is also the time when advanced preparations like tending gardens, repairing houses, weaving Bihu clothes specially Gamocha, or better called Bihuwans are done.
After all, springtime festivities bring hopes and aspirations for the days to come gathering strength to work creatively for abundance in future and peace for all.

Leave a Response