Bihu is the most important non-religious festival of Assam and is observed by all, irrespective of class and caste. There are three Bihus-Bohag Bihu in April, Kati Bihu in October/November and Magh Bihu in January.
Today marks the start of Bohag Bihu , the biggest festival of the people of Assam. It transcends all religious and class barriers, bringing people together in a free and uninhibited manner. It is basically a Spring, New Year and agricultural festival all rolled into one. Its a time of merriment and feasting and continues for several days. This festival is also called Rongali Bihu- the word rong meaning joy in Assamese. The farmers prepare the fields for cultivation of paddy and there is a feeling of joy around.
The first day of Bohag Bihu is known as the ‘Goru Bihu’ and is reserved for cattle rites. In the rural areas, the cows feet are washed, oil rubbed on their horns and hooves and some times they are decorated with garlands. The cows and bullocks provide them with their means of livelihood, hence this day is specially dedicated to them. On this day, there old ropes are cut and they are allowed to graze on any field without restraint. In the evening when the cows return home, they are tied with new ropes, fed with special cakes and oil lamps and incence are lighted in the cowsheds to ward off illness.
The next day is ‘Manuh Bihu’ day- manuh referring to humans- on this day homage is paid to elders, relatives and friends. Special dishes made of rice, curds, jaggery and sweets are prepared and eaten. The ‘larus’ and ‘pithas’(traditional food made with rice and coconut ) give the real essence of the season.
It is a community festival and people visit each other’s houses, distribute sweets to their neighbours and hold grand feasts.
Games and sports, special Bihu songs and dances, fairs etc are a part of the celebrations. These Bihu songs are beautiful specimens of folk poetry set to lilting music and swinging rhythm. The Bihu dance is vigorous and captivating, reflecting the spirit of youth and vitality. Troupes of dancers and musicians bihu dances in the open, which is called Mukoli bihu. Young men and women, attired in traditional dresses perform these dances to the accompaniment of the ‘dhol’,similar to a drum;the ‘mohor singor pepa’, a pipe instrument made from a buffalo horn;the tal, a cymbal; the ‘gagana’, a bamboo and reed instrument and the ‘toka’, a bamboo clapper.
a male dancer blowing the mohor singor pepa
The women adorn their hair with ‘kapau’, an orchid which flowers during this time.
‘Gamosa’, a traditional Assamese hand-woven towel with red designs and a white background, is given to elders and their blessings are sought. It also forms an integral part of the bihu celebrations as the male danseuse ties them around his head and also on his body.The tradition of presenting a Gamosa is also practised while welcoming any guest during any time of the year.
a gamosa and japi
‘Japi’, a traditional bamboo hat with colourful designs, is another integral part of the Bihu celebrations and is also symbolic of Assamese culture. A more simple bamboo Japi is normally worn by the farmers while cultivating the fields to protect them from the sun and rain.
Dancers shading from the sun with their japis
In the cities, due to the pressures of modern day life, the modes of Bihu celebrations have changed to a great extent. Mukoli Bihus are not common anymore. In towns and cities,there are well organised clubs, Bihu Committees and associations which organise bihu festivals where professional and amateur groups perform. Various contests are also organised where young men and women compete in Bihu dancing and the best dancer of each category is awarded the title.
But, in most of the rural areas, the originality and emotions of Bihu are very much alive.
So much for the trivia. For me Bihu signifies the sweet singing of the cuckoo, the bustling of the people in their new festival clothes with looks of gaiety and merriment, staying up late at night watching, and, later, as I grew, lending a helping hand to ma in preparing all those festival goodies, deuta (father) popping in now and then to see how much we had progressed and often joining in as well. So far removed from home, I have not been to do as much for my kids, due to the lack of resources…however, I just try to give them an essence of the significance of this festival.
credits to- bharath greetings,Wikipedia,http://www.festivalsofindia.in/Bihuhttp:,//www.indiawijzer.nl/tourism_travelling_to_india/fairs_and_festivals/april/bohag_bihu.ht