Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)
The season of spring is regarded as a harbinger of joy by all the people through centuries. April is a beautiful month when wintry sun begins to turn warm and days get longer and flowers bloom in all their splendour. This month is very dear to the people of Assam, as it heralds the most lovable festival of Bihu, which throbs the heart of every Assamese.
The spring festival is celebrated in almost all the parts of India under different mes. It is Baisakhi in Punjab, Bohag Bihu in Assam, Poila Baisakh in West Bengal, Vishu in Kerala, Pudu Varsham in Tamildu.
The spring festival, marking the New Year in different calendars in various parts of the country, is celebrated in different ways. In Punjab, Baisakhi, traditiolly a harvest festival, is celebrated on the 13th April every year. Once in 36 years it falls on 14th April, marking the Punjabi New year.
In Kerala Vishu is the first day of the Malayalam calendar. Malayalees make elaborate preparations for this day to ensure that the year will be a fruitful one by following the custom of seeing the Vishukasi (auspicious sight) early in the morning. On the previous night, fresh agricultural produce such as rice, paddy, cucumber, jackfruit, areca nut, coconut and ripe bas are aesthetically decorated and placed at the feet of Lord Krish. While men and the children engage in bursting crackers, women start cooking a variety of delicacies for the day’s lunch. Temples are filled with devotees and special pujas are held.
In Tamildu Pudu Varsham, which marks the day when Lord Brahma started creation, is celebrated with great fervour. There are many customary rituals which are followed on this first day of Tamil New Year. On this day early in the morning, the entrance of the house is decorated with Kolam (Rangoli). The door ways are adorned with mango leaves to mark the auspicious ture of the occasion.
In Bengal, Poila Baisakh is celebrated with great fervour. The day marks the first day of “ba Varsha” or the Bengali new year. To welcome the new year people clean and decorate their houses. Women draw beautiful designs called ‘Alpa’ in front of their homes. People worship Goddess Lakshmi for their well – being and prosperity.
Bihu is the biggest festival of Assam. This is a regiol festival which demonstrates the sense of solidarity and unity among the people of the region. It is celebrated thrice a year, marking the changes in the seasons. The first of these Bihu falls on “Chaitra Sankranti”. This is called Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu. It is the most festive, hilarious and joyful of all the Bihus. The other Bihus are Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu and Kati Bihu or Kongali Bihu.
The harvest festival celebrated in winter in the month of January is Magh Bihu when the crops have been harvested. Feasting is the special feature of this Bihu, since there is an abundance of food at this time. People make Mejis or Bhelaghars (Bonfires). On the Bihu eve every household prepares a sumptuous feast with meat, fish and other things. Groups of young men and children organize community feasts in temporary structures made of hay, bamboo , wood and the like. These are known as Bhelaghars or Mejis.
Kati Bihu, the last of the Bihus, falls around October – November, when paddy crop are yet to mature and the graries are almost empty. There is no food stock and hence it is known as “Kangali Bihu”, which implies poor Bihu. Special Tulsi pujas are performed in the evening with offerings of gram and fruit.
Of all the Bihus, Bohag Bihu or the Rangali Bihu is the most joyful. It is a spring new year festival and agricultural festival combined. The first day of the Rangali Bihu is called “Goru Bihu”. On this day cattle rites are performed. Household cattle get special attention and they are decorated with colourful garlands and given food. The next day is ‘Manuh Bihu’, exclusively meant for human beings. Special meals are prepared with chira, curd, pithas, ladoos, and other delicacies. An attractive feature of this Bihu is the offering of “gamocha” to friends, relatives and family members.
Along with the passage of time the “Bohag Bihu” also has gone through some changes. In the earlier times groups of young men went from home to home to sing Bihu songs and dance to the tune at any time during day or night. People used to keep their front doors open for the “Husori” (Bihu performers) parties . After their performance was over the master of the household offered them cash, gamocha and some Bihu delicacies and bowed before them for blessings.
All said and done, for me the earlier Bihus were more spontaneous and hilarious without any trace of artificiality. Competitions imply rivalry—and some kind of artificiality. In earlier times women of the families wove gamochas in the family looms. But now weaving has become almost non—existent, specially in the urban areas.
Yet the spirit of Bihu is still there. This spring festival is celebrated in different ways all over the country. It is diversity that defines India. Yet in spite of diversity there is unity, which is the speciality of India. No other festival demonstrates it better than the spring festival which is known as ‘Bihu’ for us. Some changes may have occurred in the celebration of Rongali Bihu. But in spite of certain changes in the celebration of this spring festival, the Rongali Bihu is as dear to us as it was in the past. We have to admit that change is inevitable in the passage of time from the past to the present to the future. Let us celebrate Rongali Bihu with joy and hope, dear reader. I wish you a very happy Bohag Bihu.