Bihu Festival

Agriculture Based Festivals :  ‘Bihu’ is a famous and popular festival which is largely based on agriculture. Bihu can be broadly divided into three categories: Bohag Bihu, Kaati Bihu and Maagh Bihu. Bohag Bihu augurs the wish for a good harvest because this is the time when farmers star sowing. Kaati Bihu is observed to mark the cutting and binding of grains and Magh Bihu marks the season of harvesting of grains.

In the older times, ‘Bihu’ ws not a name given to these cyclic events. Menpropitiated the sun, fire, earth and water etc. so that harvest would be good. With the passage of time, the religious aspect dimmed and gave way to gaiety and enjoyment with it. It was from the time of the Ahom kings that Bihu got its prevalent shape and form.

Bohag Bihu :  Bohag Bihu is observed from the last day in the last month of Assamese calendar Chata (called Sankranti, transit or passage from one zodiacal sign to another). Earlier Bohag Bihu was celebrated for seven days together and each day had a different name like Goru Bihu (for cows), Manuh Bihu (for mankind), Tator Bihu (for loom), Gossain Bihu (for Gods), Nangalor Bihu (for plough), Bihu for domestic animals and Chera Bihu (concluding day of the Bihu). ‘Bohag Bihu’ is the season of unfettered greenery with early monsoon, and with Nature clad in beautiful colous. Such variety is not to be found elsewhere.    

On the first day of this Bihu, which is meant for the cows, in the early hours of the morning cows are taken out for washing in the nearest ponds and ‘Beels’. With the help of a small three pronged shaped Bamboo implement, brinjals and water gourd are cut into pieces and hurled at the cows. Other vegetables like bitter gourd, turmeric and Thekera ( the gamboze fruit) are also used. These implement are interchanged with others to ward off the evil. Later in the evening when the cows return hme they are tied to new Pogha (rope for tying cow) and the shed is filled with smoke to prevent any evil. Cows are indispensable for cultivation and thus such treatment on the special day. Another important ritual of this day is that ladies and girls apply henna and mehendi on their hands and feet. Mehendi (locally known as Jetuka) is a way of bringing colour to life, apart from its medicinal properties. Manuh Bihu follows Goru Bihu when people visi relatives and exchange Gamochas (a kind of towel woven in cotton). Bihuwan or this Gamocha is a symbol of dignity in Assamese society. Jalpaan, a special food item, is an important part of Bihu. Chira-Doi (flat rice made out of parched half boiled paddy and curds), Aakhoi (fried paddy or Indian corn etc.), Gur (raw or unrefined sugar; molasses), Sandahguri (wet rice parched and pounded into lumps) etc. mainly comprise the Jalpaan. Pithas or rice cakes which are parts of the Assamese delicacy add richness to the feast. Bohag Bihu is the time when people sort out their differences. Hunsari is an integral part of Bohag Bihu. Hunsari constitutes a team which has an elderly member who leads the other members of the team with men and boys, who go and sing Bihu songs at the houses of every person in the village. The team makes a visit first to the most revered person in the village. The Hunsari team is generally presented with Seleng Chadar ( this cloth wrapped round the body), flowery Gamochas or flowery, colourful towels and a silver coin or so. This is the householders way of according them respect. The money collected from Hunsari singing is used for  development works like building of a library, a naamghar etc.. People also have community feasts with the money collected in this manner. It is a time honoured custom to offer Tamol-Paan or betel nuts to the Hunsari Dol in Bohag Bihu.          

Bihu folk dance is a separate item performed by both young men and women. The songs sung are mostly folk tune based and are related to love. Games like bufallow-fight, cock-fight, arm wrestling are popular. During Ahom rule these games were held in the fields close to Ranghar taking on the character of Olympiad held in Greece in ancient times. The last day of Bihu is called Chera Bihu. It is a tradition to eat Paita Bhaat (cooked rice soaked in water overnight and consumed the next day) and curds. Hand fans are used for the first time during the year heralding the advent of spring. The Assamese in villages bid farewell to Bihu in a traditional manner. After seven days or eleven days of the Chera Bihu a group of young people go and pay their respects in the Naamghar with a Sarai (tray with a stand) of Tamol-Paan and Gamocha to formally wind up the Bihu festival. Then they go to a big tree near the village and  put the Bihuwan on one of its branches and then leave an instrument used in the ‘Bihu Utsav’, thus symbolically bidding farewell to that year’s Bihu.

Kaati Bihu: Towards the end of Aahin ( sixth month of the Assamese calendar) month the farmers labour brings forth the golden glow on the ripe grain. In the month of Kaati (seventh month of the Assamese calendar) following Aahin, the farmer gets ready to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. It is done by lighting chakis (earthen lamps) under the Tulsi (black basil) plant. Kaati Bihu is the time when the granary is empty hence lending the name Kangali Bihu. The granary is also adorned with an earthen lamp so as to auger a full granary throughout the coming months. There is another custom of lighting an earthen lamp on a long sliver of a bamboo. There is a belief that this is done to ease the departed one's soul to the other world. This 'earthen lamp' is also called Askash Banti. Parallel to this Bihu, the festival of Deepavali is also celebrated, with the lighted 'diyas' dispelling the darkness.

Maagh Bihu :  It is observed to celebrate the harvesting of grain. It is usually held on the 14th and 15th  of January (1st and  2nd Maagh, the tenth month of Assamese calendar).

The first day is called Uruka, when people build a temporary shed and have feast. Four bamboo rods are placed beside the four posts and then a meji (a pile or column on split fire-woodor straw erected for burning in the early morning of the Maagh Bihu) is built in the shape of a temple, in a conical shape. In the early hours of the next day people take a bath and after the meji is lighted, they pay their respect and the Bihu is officially started. The ashes of the burnt meji is scattered over the fields, for it is believed that doing so would increase the fertility of the soil. Delicacies like pithas are served together with Jalpaan. Various kinds of potatoes (Kaath Aloo, Mitha Aloo etc.) are also eaten on this day. Many games are also played keeping the spirit of the Bihu alive.

Bihu is the treasure of Assamese, something which they have to protect at all cost. But now commercialization has cost Bihu some of its luster. In place of Chira, pithas, curd, cakes, biscuits etc. have taken over. Bihu dances and songs have been restricted to the stage with its being brought within the bounds of competition.

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