Bihu Celebrations – Things you should know about the Assam Festival
Joyous people forming a circle or straight line, Dancing to the beats of Dhol, And the melody of Pepa With their colourful traditional dresses, Mind and heart filled with joy, Well, ready to celebrate Bihu festival.
These lines tell us about the Great Festival of Assam that is called Bihu. A unique festival that is associated with agriculture and celebrated three times a year. The Bihu festival is very important for the Assamese, and it is the festival that they celebrate all round the year.
Historical Reference of Bihu
The first reference of Bihu is found on the Copperplate inscriptions of the Chutia King Lakshminarayan. This inscription was discovered in 1935 from the Ghilamara region of Lakhimpur district, which was issued in 1401 A.D. The inscription states that on Bihu, King Lakshminarayan donated lands to the Brahmins. The copper Plate of Ghilmara issued in 1401 reads,
“Etasmay Shashana prada Lakshminarayan Nripa
Ultriya Bisuye Punya Ravidev Dvijanme”
The above lines mean that on the pious occasion of Bihu festival, a Brahmin named Dvija Ravidev was granted land by King Lakshminarayan. So it indicates the importance of the Bihu for the people of Assam even during that period.
Another popular folklore of Assam is,
“Dhul bai Kot? Ratanpurot
Khul Bai Kot? Ratanpurot.”
These lines show the arrival of Goddess during the Bihu season, which can be found in Bihu songs as,
“Kolimoti e bai ghuri Bohagoloi
Ahibi ne nai?
Ami thakim ami thakim
Types of Bihu Festival
The word ‘Bihu’ is derived from the word ‘Bishu’ in Sanskrit, which means “to ask the Gods for prosperity during the season of harvests.” So the meaning of bihu is to be associated with harvests like Baisakhi.The Asami Bihu is associated with farming.
Three Bihu coincides with different phases of farming. ‘Rongali Bihu’ or’ Bohag Bihu’ is celebrated in the month of April. ‘Kogali Bihu’ is celebrated in October, and ‘Bhogali Bihu’ or ‘Magh Bihu’ or ‘Maghar Domahi’ is celebrated in January.
Rongoli Bihu or Bohag Bihu
Rongoli Bihu, marks the beginning of the Assamese New Year. Assamese Rongolili Bihu day marks the first day of the Hindu Solar Calendar. It is celebrated from April 15 to April 21. It marks the arrival of Spring. Assamese Bohag Bihu refers to the harvest or sowing part of farming. At this time, the fields are prepared for the cultivation of paddy. Many folk songs are associated with it and are called the Bihugeet.
The Rongoli Bihu consists of seven days of celebration, which are called Xaat Bihu.
On the first day, which is known as cow Bihu or Goru Bihu, the farmers take the livestock and cattle to the river and they are cleaned and worshipped. Then the farmers prepare a paste of turmeric powder and pulses known as Maha-Haldi. This Haldi is then applied on the livestock, and then they are fondled by the twigs of Makhiyati and Dighalalti plants. They are then offered food and worshipped and thanked for their help.
The animals are brought back in the evening and are tied with a new fresh rope made from tora plants. A garland of Tangolti leaves is offered to them, and a fire is lit in their shed to see that the flies and insects do not disturb them. This day is celebrated on the last day of the previous year. A special food item known as ‘Bor Pitha’ made from rice and jaggery is offered to them.
Manuh Bihu is the name of New Year Day. This is also the second day. It is even the first day of the month, Vaishak. People celebrate it by wearing new clothes, praying to God and eating sweets. The people go to meet friends and relatives as the tradition includes the people going to take the blessings of elders and presenting them with traditional clothes (Gasuma) as gifts. These clothes symbolise the pride of culture when it is worn by elders.
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The third Day is the Day of worship. Gods are worshipped. Traditional songs are sung in praise of God. Songs are sung seeking the protection of God and blessings for a good harvest.
Kuntum Bihu is the day when the people go to meet their relatives and friends. They gather together for lunch and exchange their personal experiences and stories.
Jiyori or Senehi Bihu
Jiyori means the tradition of coming of the daughters to their parents’ house and celebrating Bihu with them. Senehi is the word that symbolises love and reproduction. This day is exclusively for lovers. On this day the lovers meet their beloved and give them gifts which are usually known as ‘Bihuwan’.
Mela Bihu or Sera bihu
It is the last day of the celebrations. During ancient times, the king, along with his subjects,used to participate in a fair. This tradition has not been broken by the people. Fairs are organised even today, and people come in large numbers to participate in them and enjoy them.
Food Associated with Bohag Bihu
As the festival is related to fertility, major food items include green leafy vegetables. It symbolises an abundance of crops and is associated with a successful harvest. Along with green leafy vegetables the food items like jaggery, coconut, sesame, rice, milk and various milk products are included in the feast. Multiple varieties of meat and brewed rice beer are also included by many communities. Friends and family meet at big fests and enjoy the Bihu festival together.
Magh Bihu or ‘Bhogali Bihu’ or ‘Maghar Domahi’
Makar Sankranti is celebrated in the form of Magh Bihu or Assamese Magh Bihu. It is one of the most important cultural festivals of Assam. It symbolises the end of the harvesting season in the region. According to the Assamese calendar, this day falls on the last day of the month of ‘poush’, and it continues for one week. Sankranti refers to Lord Surya, but this festival is dedicated to Agni, the Lord of Fire. The word ‘Bhog’ means eating, and this is what the festival stands for, eating with the community.
Uruka is the name of the day that precedes the Assamese Bhogali Bihu or Magh Bihu. On this day people makeshift huts, known as Meji (huts made of bamboo, leaves and thatch). Around the Meji, the people prepare the food and spend the night singing and dancing. ‘Bhelaghar’,a makeshift cottage, is prepared by young ones near the river. Among the celebrations and the community feast exchange of sweets and greetings takes place. Uruka is a night full of enjoyment. The night is enjoyed by singing Bihu songs, beating dhols and playing games. The songs that are sung are ‘Kong Seng’, ‘Bohagoe amare aai mohura hoi ghure’, ‘Pahar’ ‘Bogai Bogai’ ‘Dhonseng’ etc. Fun activities are carried out by the young boys. They keep roaming around, teasing, playing, and stealing firewood and vegetables.
The next morning of Uruku, on the day of Bihu the people gather after taking a bath. The main Meji is burnt. People gather around the Meji and pray to the Lord of Fire. They offer Pithas or rice cakes and betel nuts to the Lord of Fire. This marks the ending of the Harvest season. They thank God, and then Prasad is distributed by women to all the people present over there. Then the ashes of the Meji are brought and are scattered on the farms to increase the fertility of the soil. All the trees in the compound are tied to bamboo strips or paddy stems. The Magh Bihu festival celebration continues for several days as the young people keep dancing in groups or around the girls. All are dressed up in a traditional dress. Such gatherings are called ‘Mukoli Bihus’.
On this day the people dance as well enjoy different types of sports like Buffalo Fight, Cock Fight, Egg fight, Nightingale fight etc. ‘Gamosa’ a handwoven rectangular piece of white cloth with primarily a red border on three sides and red woven motifs on the fourth side is given to the elders by the youngsters.
Kongal Bihu or Kati Bihu
Kongal Bihu is celebrated midway in October. This Assamese Kati Bihu is quite different from the other two. It is quite a Bihu. It is celebrated on the First day of the ‘Kati’ month of the Assamese Calendar. The name ‘Kogali’ means poor, indicating the barns are empty and there is limited availability of food. Farmers pray to God for a good harvest of the paddy that is growing in their fields.
This Bihu, with its silence, is celebrated by offering prayers to God. They offer prayer to Goddess Laxmi, who is worshipped for prosperity. Women worship Goddess Laxmi at home, and moreover, lamps are lit in the house and in the paddy fields.
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Tulsi plant is also worshipped by lightning a lamp. In the paddy fields, the lamps are kept at a height on the bamboo. They are tied to the bamboo so that insects fall prey to it, and the paddy crop is saved. It also has a belief that it shows the path of Heaven to the spirits of ancestors who have come to give their blessings. This keeping the lamps on the bamboo is called ‘Akaxbonti’ in Assamese. It’s a Bihu that is celebrated silently, offering prayers and the farmers thinking about a good harvest. It marks the way that the time of enjoyment is on its way.
Bihu Festival – Special Food Items
There is a long list of the food items that are associated with the festival. The food items list called ‘Jalpan’ includes chira, muri, akhoi, hurum, pitha-guri, sandoh-guri, komal-chaul, gur, doi and milk. The other items include ghila-pitha and malpowa-pitha. Then comes the speciality of Bihu the Laroo. The feast even includes meat-mutton, duck, chicken, pork, which is cooked. Different types of Fish recipes also come in special food items.
All the three Bihus pray for bringing peace and prosperity to the lives of all. It is associated with farming which is the lifeline of the country. A festival that starts with the first day of the New Year and is celebrated during the year teaches us to have,
“Bond of Humanity, Love, Respect for our Land, Elders and our Loved ones.”