Bohag Bihu: Festivals of Spring

Assam is a fertile land surrounded by blue mountains and replenished by the mighty river Brahmaputra.
Bohag Bihu: Festivals of Spring

 Gunin Borah

(The writer is a faculty of Geography in Biswanath College, Chariali. He can be reached at

Assam is a fertile land surrounded by blue mountains and replenished by the  mighty river Brahmaputra. The occupation of most of the people is agriculture, and the entire society is agrarian in nature. Bihu is basically a celebration of the change of the seasons. Each of the three Bihu celebrations marks an important phase in the farming calendar of Assam.

The word Bihu is originally derived from the word known as ‘Bishu’, which means that people ask for prosperity from the gods during important junctures of the harvesting season. Later on, the name somehow got distorted, and the festival came to be known as Bihu. According to another source, it is commonly believed that the festival received its name from two different words, namely ‘bi, which means to ask, and ‘hu’, which means to give. Both of these two words combine to form the name Bihu.

As the dry season gets over and brings a green, fertile landscape, flowers like Kopou,Tagar, Nahar, and Kateki bloom to signify the arrival of the spring season. The blooming of these flowers marks the arrival of a graceful festival called Bohag Bihu. It is the harvest festival, which the people of Assam celebrate with pomp and gaiety. It reflects the emotions of joyfulness and the change in the seasonal cycle. Everyone in the household is busy with their part in the process of celebration.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), spring occurs when the earth’s axis is pointed towards or away from the sun. Equinoxes are special days during the year when the day and night are equal. There are two equinoxes, one in the spring and another in the autumn. The spring one falls around March 21. The temperature gets warmer gradually. The land covered with snow starts melting slowly. Animals that spend time in winter sleep are awakened and come out of their den. Birds chirp a lot, signifying the beginning of spring. Different varieties of bird species are spotted, making the environment colourful.

Bohag, or Rongali Bihu, is one of the most significant festivals in Assam. It is being celebrated to mark the beginning of the harvesting season. It is also considered the first day of the Assamese new year and the first day of the Hindu solar calendar. Like other harvest festivals in India, Bihu involves the farmer community, which offers thanks to the almighty for a successful harvest as well as hoping for a better harvest in the future. Bohag bihu coincides with other harvest festivals such as Baisakhi, Bishu, and Tamil New Year.

Bohag bihu signifies the harvesting season and the beginning of the spring season, and people greet the coming season of spring with much enthusiasm. It comes with feasting and singing festivities. Both men and women perform traditional Bihu dances to mark the celebration of the new year. The celebration takes place over a span of seven days. These are the various phases and significance of each of the seven days of Bihu, such as Goru Bihu, Manuh Bihu, Gosai Bihu, etc. In the observance of Bohag bihu, people make up an early bath with raw turmeric and urad dal paste, wear new clothes, and seek blessings from elders, followed by Jalpan, a light breakfast of sticky rice along with curd and jaggery.

Nowadays, the celebration of Bihuis is not restricted to the farming community alone. They are also celebrated in urban areas such as cities and town areas, even if they are of recent origin. Here, Bihu celebration committees organise special Bihu functions, where local people participate in various competitions and artists are invited from all over to make the occasion more special.

Rongali Bihu has lots of traditions that everyone tries to follow and observe. Various plants and flowers are associated with numerous festivities and rituals of this Bihu, celebrated during the beautiful spring season.

On the first day of Rongali Bihu or Goru Bihu, patting the cow with Deeghlati and Makhiyati leaves is a traditional way. People sing ‘Deeghlati deeghal pat, makhi maro jaatjaat’ while doing so. It is believed that doing this will protect the cows against varying insects, which has been scientifically proven as well. In the evening, these plants are burned in the ‘Gohali (cowshed) to ward off insects.

Natural colours such as jetuka and baharmathuri are widely used during Bohag Bihu. Though Jetuka paste is applied throughout the year, applying it to fingernails, hands, feet, etc. during Bihu, especially on the day of Goru Bihu, is believed to have medicinal effects. It is specially considered effective against skin diseases. New buds of Borhamathuri are chewed with betel nuts to give a darker shade to the lips and tongue during Bihu festivities. It is served as natural lipstick.

On the first day of Bohag, the leaves of Nahar trees are inscribed with a mantra and hang on the doorway or roof of the house. It is believed that doing this will protect the house against storms. The leaves upon which the mantras are inscribed are called ‘Joimini’. Along with the leaves of Nahar flowers, they too have a special significance during the Bihu festivities.

Bohag Bihu can’t be imagined without ‘Kopou Phool’. Girl Bihu dancers use this flower for their hair makeup. As per tradition and custom, the lover plucking ‘Kopou Phool’ by overcoming all hurdles and obstacles in the bun of his beloved is considered to be the ultimate expression of love. Hence, among all flowers used during Bihu, ‘Kopou Phool’ occupies prime importance.

Green leafy vegetables always form an important component of Assamese cuisine. During Bihu, especially Goru Bihu or Saat Bihu, a special dish is prepared from seven or 101 bitter green leafy vegetables, depending on the area and community. This ritual is also called Satsaki. The significance of the preparation of herbal recipes on the first day of the year is that, due to the consumption of so many plant products containing good numbers of phytochemicals, they will help to protect against disease. The people of Assam have acquired the knowledge of using these plants in the recipe since time immemorial.

Some green leafy vegetables used in preparing dishes are Dhekia, Tikoni-barua, Nefafu, Bonjaluk, Kosu, Bhedailata, Brahmi, Khotura, Kolmou, Manimuni, Jilmil, Mosundari, Mandhania, Posotia, Salkuwari, Puroi, Bokphul, etc. Along with popular belief, scientific studies have also proved the benefits of consuming these green leafy vegetables.

Assam is a state where different kinds of foods and different recipes are part of the cultural identity. As a part of the moist sub-tropical weather, the state is an area of different seasonal epidemics and also harbours a good number of medicinal and nutritious plants. This is only during this during this season that a good number of medicinal plants are tried to analyse their chemical constituents for better health improvement. Different people in Assam make the vegetable recipe on the first day of the Bohag month. The people of Assam have acquired the knowledge of using these plants in the recipe since time immemorial.

Rapid urbanisation and deforestation have rendered the age-old Bihu ritual of consuming 101 varieties of herbs during the spring season limited to less than 10 varieties due to their non-availability. Some precious herbs with medicinal properties are not grown any more or have been pushed to be grown in the inaccessible jungles of the state. The herbs cannot be found easily now as global warming, deforestation, and urbanisation have pushed the plants into interior woodlands. Some people do not even know that a few rare herbs grow in the backyards of their own houses. It is their ignorance about the existence of such herbs in their surroundings.

Consuming herbs during Bohag Bihu is an intrinsic part of Assamese culture. Steps must be taken now to ensure that the herbs are revived in our surroundings. Some rare herbs are almost on the verge of disappearance. They are still not lost. We have hopes of bringing them back into the common fold of society.

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