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The Bihu Festival of Assam

By Dilip Kumar Borah, Dubai

Bihu is the National Festival of Assam, one of the most beautiful states of India, known for its tea gardens, lush green forests and the mighty Brahmaputra river. The origin of the word ‘Bihu" is said to be from the Sanskrit word ‘Vishu’.

The Assamese celebrate three types of Bihu in a year - Rongaali Bihu or ‘Bohaag Bihu, Kati Bihu or Kongaali Bihu and the last but not the least Magh Bihu or Bhogaali Bihu. The Bihus mark three distinct phases of the farming calendar for the native crop of Assam i.e. paddy. Bohaag Bihu marks the advent of the seeding time, the Kati Bihu marks the completion of sowing of paddy and transplantation of the saplings (‘Kothia’) and finally Magh Bihu marks the culmination of the harvesting period.

Rongaali Bihu’, the most important Bihu of all the three, is celebrated in the month of Bohaag (middle of April), the first month of the Assamese calendar and thus marks the advent of the Assamese New Year. This Bihu is also known as Rongaali ( ‘Rong’ denoting joy in Assamese) Bihu due to the merriment that predominates the celebrations. This festival also coincides with the advent of the spring season in the state. Bihu Dance and Bihu Songs are the main features of this Bihu. Bohaag Bihu is celebrated over a period of several days. The first day of the Bihu is known as ‘Goru Bihu’ on which day the cows and bulls are given a ritual bath with ‘halodhi’, ‘maah’ with the accompanying song "Lao Kha, Bengena Kha, Bochore Bochore Badhi Ja".

The next day is the main Bihu Day on which people greet each other and pay their respect to the elders in the family by presenting with a new ‘Gamosa’ ( a traditional Assamese hand-woven cotton towel with red designs with a white background). Gamosa forms an integral part of the Bohaag Bihu celebrations as the male danseuse wears them on the head as well as on the body. The tradition of presenting a Gamosa is also practised while welcoming any guest during anytime of the year.

Another item which forms an integral part of the Bihu celebrations and is also symbolic of Assamese Culture is the Japi – a traditional Bamboo hat with colorful designs. A more simple bamboo Japi is normally worn by the farmer while cultivating in the field protecting oneself from the sun and rain.

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The folk songs associated with Bohaag Bihu are known as ‘Bihu Geet’; Bihu Geet is symbolic of communication of love and romance among the village youth and the village belles. The dances are accompanied by traditional Assamese instruments like the Dhol (the Drum), Pepa, Gagana, Toka etc..

Traditionally Bihu has been celebrated with Bihu dance and Bihu Geets in the village fields and courtyards, with groups of youths going from house to house, singing Bihu songs which is known as Husori. The same practice slowly got transformed to holding community functions mainly in towns and cities where cultural functions are held; such functions are based on Bihu dance and Bihu geets which depict mainly Bihu dances and songs.

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The end of the Bohaag Bihu is marked by the celebration of Bohagi Bidaai, i.e. farewell to Bohaag.

Kati Bihu is the most quiet Bihu of the three without any funfare unlike the other two. Held in the beginning of the Kati (7th month of the Assamese calendar) (middle of October), the Bihu marks silent prayer in the form of lighting of earthen lamps in the paddy fields and also near Tulasi tree for the success of the crop.

Bhogaali Bihu is celebrated in January, immediately after the traditional paddy cultivation is harvested. An overnight community function is held in temporary thatched houses (made with thatch and dry plantation leaves/ trunk) known as Bhela Ghar or Meji Ghar) specially erected for the purpose mainly in the barren paddy fields from where the crop has already been harvested. A Community feast is one of the main features of this Bihu which is held near the Bhela Ghar. People spent the night of the community feast in the Bhela Ghar and early in the morning the same is lit with fire, culminating the function. A variety of traditional Assamese sweets and cakes like the Laru, Pitha etc. are prepared on the occasion in every home. The next day is spent by visiting relatives and friends to convey and exchange the Bihu greetings; the guests, neighbours and relatives are treated with the snacks prepared for the occasion.

One important aspect of the Bihu festival is that the entire Assamese Community irrespective caste, creed and religious followings celebrate it.

 

For a detailed write-up on the Bihu Festival, please read the article by Dr. Nomal Gogoi at : http://www.sankaradevakalakshetra.com/bihu/index.htm