Assam, renowned for its teas estates, sericulture industry, wild life sanctuaries – the habitats of rapidly disappearing one horned rhinoceros and hornbills. But, picture comes first into the mind with Assam is of young men and women, adorned in traditional attire, performing Bihu folk dance on the joyful beats of music. Assam is synonymous to Bihu, marks the beginimg on New year as per Assamese calendar. “Bihu is as old as the river Brahmaputra”. A lifeline for Assamese People!
Primarily, three Bihus are celebrated by the Assamese community—Rongali or Bohag Bihu (festival of happiness), Kongali or Kati Bihu (festival of scarcity) and Bhogali or Magh Bihu (festival of feasting).
Due to COVID- 19, in the year 2020 the Assam government asked the public to follow lockdown guidelines by staying indoors and directed Bihu committees to restrict celebrations to a symbolic flag hoisting.
But no worries, as we shall overcome and celebrate this festival with the same zeal and excitement again. Life turns around the wheel of hope. Hope keeps a person survive through the toughest time. Rather than going out, this period has blessed us with the opportunity to do an introspection on ourselves. Happy Bohag Bihu!
3 Types of Bihu celebrations
- Rongali or Bohag Bihu
The word Rongali suggests in itself the emotion of joyfulness. Rongali or Bohag Bihu is celebrated during the month of April, on the occasion of the Assamese New Year. New year begins with new life everywhere as the dry weather of February and March (Fagun and Choit) reaches to its climax. New leaves and beautiful flowers of Nahor, Togor can be sighted in the gardens.7 Days of Bihu celebrationBohag Bihu is celebrated for seven days, with each day having its own significance.
- Goru Bihu
- Manuh Bihu
- Goshai Bihu
- Kutum Bihu
- Senehi Bihu
- Mela Bihu
- Sera Bihu
Agriculture plays a substantial role in Assamese economy, engaging about half of the total working population and generating roughly one-third of the state’s gross product. So, Bihu is celebrated with great fervour and gaity. Despite technological advancements, cattles play an indispensable role in agriculture till today too.
The last day of the month of Choit or the last day of the old year is dedicated to the cattle, remembered as ‘Goru Bihu’. The cattle are bathed with fresh water at the riverside or at the empty paddy fields where the fresh water of that month is stored. Before the bathing starts, people offer the cattle a paste of black gram and turmeric. This is believed to be best for protecting their skin. After the session of bathing, the cattle are left free. But before this the owners or family members take a bamboo stick called Chak to which vegetables like brinjal, bitter gourd and bottle gourd are tied together and slowly hit the cattle to the rhythm of a song.
After this, people go to take a bath in the river or pond with the remaining paste of turmeric and black gram (matimah) followed by feasting on various snacks majorly made of rice flour or the rice boiled or fried with unique traditional patterns, relished with curd and jaggery.
At the end of the day; when the cattle return home, they are welcomed with a new traditional rope called ‘Tora pogha’. This is similar to offering a new cloth to the cattle. Cattles are also served with different food preparations. At the night they are also served with different food prepations.
The first week of the month of Bohag is full of celebration. From the first days, Bihu dance performance groups, called as Husori, start visiting the villages. Villagers welcome them whole heartedly. For the first week of the Assamese New Year people go to meet their relatives. Hosts offer palatable traditional snacks, and Bihuwan (gamocha or traditional towels) to the guests. With the end of Bohag Bihu, fresh showers touches the soil and people get ready for the first season of agriculture in the new year.
- Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu
Magh or Bhogali Bihu is the festival of feast, celebrated in the Assamese month of Magh (mid-January) and marks the harvesting of the crops, when the farmers finally get a window of rest after a prolonged period of hard labour in the fields and when there is surplus food. The idea is to thank the gods for the blessing of a good harvest, especially rice. During the two days of the festival, people of a particular Chuk-Chuburi or khel or the village gather to have a feast together.
- Kati Bihu or Kongali Bihu
The word ‘kongal’ means ‘scarcity’ as this festival falls during the days of scarcity, when the paddies in the field are half-grown and there are very few reserves in the granaries. This Bihu is observed during the Assamese moth of Kati (mid-October). Since there is scarcity all around, the festival doesn’t allow much celebration. However, some important rituals and rites are observed to ward off evil from the crops and the community on the evening of the day of Kati Bihu.
What is so special about Bihu dance?
Bihu dance is the most unique element of the Bohag Bihu celebration. Bihu dance, in nutshell, an expression of joy, love and happiness. People belonging to various age groups—both old and young—get together to sway to the rhythm of the dhol, pepa and gogona.
3 Main forms of Bihu dance
- Lora Nas (dance of the male dancers): Youny boys dance on the tunes of pepa (horn), gogona and banhi (flute), dhol in a circular motion comprise of simple steps and peculiar waist movements.
- Suwali Nas (dance by the girls): Once the boys complete their dance, the girls come forward singing traditional songs. Traditional music instruments – gogona is played by the girls themselves, the pepa is played by a musician known as pepuwa.
- Burha Naas: This is a special segment of Bihu dance which is dedicated to the old performers who can’t dance fast due to their age. The rhythms are very slow compared to others.
Traditional dresses for Bihu festival
Dress for Young girls: Young girls beautifully adorned in Mekhela Chador. This traditional dress is made of muga silk assesorised with kapou ful(orchids) in their hairs. They use Gam kharu which is also called Muthi kharu on their wrists. It is a kind of bangle actually.
They tie their waist with ‘hasoti’ which is like a small towel and also a riha(a piece of cloth) under the chador. To add colour to their lips, they used the colour from a small tree called Barhamthuri.
Traditional dressings for Boys: The costumes of boys include a dhoti, a chapkan chola, baniyan or a kurta-like shirt. On the neck and on the head they use gamocha. On the waist they wear the tongali (a piece of red cloth like the gamocha). On their both hands boys wear romal or hasoti (a small piece of cloth). and wear ornaments like Jhangfai and Lokapar. But with time the traditions has been rectified with a tinge of modernity.