Rongali or Bohag Bihu is among the most important of the three Bihus of Assam. Celebrated in mid-April (14-15th April), Rongali Bihu also known as Bohag (as it is celebrated in the Assamese month of Bohag or Baisakh) Bihu marks the beginning of the Assamese New Year as the Hindu calendar.
This Bihu is all about celebration, wearing new clothes and ushering in the New Year with song, dance, and cultural programmes. People flock in hundreds to enjoy cultural programmes. Prominent artists, singers perform and these cultural nights go on till late next day morning.
The women-folk dress in the traditional pat or muga silk or cotton mekhela chador (the two-piece attire). They adorn themselves with bright red, yellow, green, orange, pink, and other lively coloured mekhela chador. During this time, parents gift their children new clothes. Exchange of gamocha, the traditional Assamese towel, also known as Bihuwaan is done as a mark of love and respect.
Gamusa or gamochas are usually woven in the hand-loom and is made out of cotton with red motifs but during Bohag Bihu gamochas are also made of costly pat or muga silk.
Rongali means colour, merriment, and festivity. Therefore, during this Bihu people enjoy, they let their hair down, forget their worries and celebrate life.
The first day of Rongali Bihu is observed as Goru (Cow) Bihu. This day is dedicated to worshipping, bathing, feeding, and taking care of the cattle, mainly cows, bulls, and buffaloes which most rural Assamese households have. Since these animals play a significant role in the daily lives of the people in rural areas, they are treated with extra care on this particular day. They are bathed with a mix of "maah-halodhi" (black gram and turmeric paste), and softly whipped with "dighloti" (litsea salicifolia, a plant with longleaf), "makhioti" (flemingia strobilifera), "tonglati" (a plant with flower-like soft plastic butter-fly) to shoo away the flies. They are fed of "lau" and "bengena" (bottle gourd and brinjal). While doing this, people sing the passage: "Dighloti dighol paat, maakhi marru jaat jaat, lau khaa bengena khaa, bosore bosore barhi jaa, maare xoru baapere xoru toi hobi bor bor goru." It is translated as "With our herbs and the leaves of dighloti, we drive away the flies that disturb you. We hope that you accept our offering of brinjals and gourds, and continue to grow every year, and may you outgrow your parents."
On Goru Bihu, children and young ones seek the blessings of the elders.
The next day is Manuh (people) Bihu. It falls on the first day of the Assamese month of Bohag.
On this day, people wear new clothes, enjoy traditional breakfast comprising of Sira (flattened rice), Doi (curd), cream, jaggery, Bora Saul (sticky rice), or Kumol Saul (a unique type of rice from Assam). Some people prefer Akhoi or Muri (puffed rice) and Hurum (type of puffed rice). Assamese specialties, Pitha (made of rice flour with a filling of grated coconut and sugar or jaggery or roasted black sesame and sugar or jaggery) - Tilpitha, Ghilapitha, Tekeli Mukhot Diya pitha, Chunga pitha (made in hollow bamboo) and a range of Larus (laddoos) -- Narikol Laru (grated coconut laru), Tilor Laru (black sesame laru), Sujir Laru (semolina laru) are staples during Rongali (Bohag) Bihu. These form an intrinsic part of the Bihu platter even during Bhogali or Magh Bihu celebrated in mid-January, another important Bihu of the Assamese people.
A variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes - duck meat cooked with white gourd, mutton, chicken, pork, and fish delicacies, the most an important one being masor tenga or a sour fish curry made of tomato and lemon juice or thekera tenga forms part of the Bihu lunch and dinner.
Xaat saak or a mix of seven variety of saag (leafy vegetable) is a must-have during Rongali (Bohag) Bihu.
There is a tradition of having "Poita Bhat" or "Panta Bhat" (a rice-based dish prepared by soaking rice overnight) with Doi or with mustard oil and salt. The tradition of having poita bhat has been followed over the years as people believe that it makes them cool and calm in their tough times.
One of the main attractions of this Bihu is the women fold applying "Jetuka" (mehendi or henna) on their hands and making lovely motifs.
Kopou (a variety of orchid) blooms at this time and is seen as one of the most integral parts, as a symbol of Rongali Bihu celebrations. It is customary for the womenfolk to apply jetuka and adorn their buns with Kopou phool (flower).
Rongali Bihu is celebrated for a minimum of seven days.
On the day of Kutum Bihu, usually celebrated on the third day, people visit their families, relatives, and friends as Kutum means kin. Gifts and traditional Assamese sweets and desserts are exchanged.
Bihu dance and songs are an important part of the Rongali Bihu celebrations. But Husori is something unique and is performed only during Rongali Bihu. Originally, Husori was performed by groups of men and was strictly male-dominated but now there are female Husori troupes too. These Husori groups visit households and they sing Husori. After that, they bless the household. This is an important part of the Assamese culture and tradition. They are offered some cash, gamocha, and tamul-paan (betel nut and leaves) on a bota or xorai (a plate made of bell-metal on a stand) – this is the traditional Assamese way of offering things to people. Other items can also be offered.
The Husori represents a band that includes numbers of "Nasoni" (female dancer) and "Bihuwa" (male dancers). They dance to the tune of Bihu songs, sometimes these are sermons too. Instruments like Dhol, Pepa (made of buffalo horn), Bahi (flute), Gogona (a type of jaw harp made of bamboo), Taal (cymbal). Sometimes Xutuli, Khol, and Nagada are also used. The main male character of the Husori group is usually an elderly man who carries an umbrella and uses it as his walking stick.
Traditionally, the Husori singers first visit their nearby Namghars, and then, they visit individual households, announcing their arrival with Bihu songs as they reach at the "podulimukh" (frontyard) of the household.
Apart from Husori, there are also many other Bihu dance forms people celebrate during Rongali Bihu – "Mukoli Bihu" (the Bihu dance form performed in an open space), "Jeng Bihu" (the Bihu dance form performed by women only in an open space), "Gosor Tolor Bihu" (the Bihu dance form performed under a tree), and many more.
Bihu is also seen to be celebrated abroad. Many Bihu associations and committees organize the festival with enthusiasm. The London Bihu Committee (LBC), UK is one of them among others. Thus, people of ages (both young and old) celebrate Bihu with lots of joy and happiness.
Bihu is the most important cultural festival of Assamese people.