The Many Bihus Of Assam

Assam is an amalgamation of a variety of tribes. Every tribe has their Bihu among other festivals.
The Many Bihus Of Assam

The word 'Bihu' is believed to be a derivation from the Sanskrit 'visuvat.' The term Bihu is a generic term by which not one, but three different important Assamese festivals are known: the Bohag Bihu, the Magh Bihu and Kati Bihu. All these three Bihus have different significance and manner of celebration. It is not just these three Bihus, every tribe of Assam has their Bihu.

In the springtime Bohag Bihu also called Rangali Bihu is celebrated. It also marks the beginning of the Assamese New Year. Celebrated in the month of Bohag (Baisakh or April), its all about merry making, song and dance, therefore it is also called Rongali Bihu, Rong meaning joy and colour. Bihu songs are sung and performed on stage or out in the open field where men and women, young and old sing and dance to the tune of Bihu songs. Instruments like 'mohor singor pepa' a kind of flute made out of dead buffalo horns and 'gogona' which the women folk play while performing Bihu and 'toka' an instrument made of bamboo are played besides the dhol (an instrument belonging to the family of drums. The 'mohor singor pepa', 'gogona' and the 'toka' are unique and instruments exclusive to Assam. ((Pls show photos of mohor singor pepa, toka and gogona. 

Bohag Bihu, the most important and biggest festival of Assam is celebrated for over 7 days. Each day has its own significance. The first day is celebrated as Goru Bihu (festival of the cattle). Those who have cows or goats celebrate this festival with joy, and they give baths to the cows and goats with 'maah' and 'haldhi' (black lentils and turmeric) and feed them brinjal and bottle gourd while singing the folk song, 'Laau Kha Bengena Kha Bosore Bosore Bardhi Ja'. The second day, known as Manuh Bihu (peoples' Bihu) is when new clothes are worn and feasting and song and dance begins. Till the last day, people celebrate this festival by dancing and singing, cultural shows are held across the states, artistes get extremely busy. Simply put, its joy in the air.

This Bihu is also known as 'Saat Bihu' as it is celebrated for a period of 7 days. One unique thing during 'Saat Bihu' is that seven variety of saag or leafy vegetables all cooked together is a must have.

Magh Bihu is also known as Bhogali Bihu as it entails a lot of feasting, community meals are common during Bhogali bihu. Bhog meaning feast. Magh bihu is celebrated in the month of Magh or January. It is around the same time when Poila Boisakh is celebrated in West Bengal, Lohri or Makar Sankranti is celebrated in Punjab and North India, Thai Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Uttarayan in Gujarat, Poush Songkranti in Bengal, Makara Chaula in Odisha, and Maghi Sankrant in Maharashtra and Haryana.

Uruka, the Bihu eve, is of great significance. On this day, womenfolk get ready for the next day by preparing Assamese delicacies such as chira, pitha, laru, curd, etc. Uruka is not a one-day affair, because for Uruka, fuel (mostly wood in rural areas) has to be gathered, fish from ponds or streams (fish is a must have), and some meat too if possible. All this for the grand feasts that this Bihu is characterized by. The next morning, after the 'mejis' and 'bhelaghars' (a kind of tall structure made of hay, bamboo, dry leaves etc.) are burnt, people sit around the mezi and to the accompaniment of kettledrums and large cymbals, hold a session of devotional Vaishnavite singing. Different type of potatoes like 'kaath aloo' and a mixture of dry rice, black sesame (til), golden lentil (sonali moong) and black chana (black chickpea or golapi boot) known as 'maah korai' is served mixed with mustard oil, dry ginger peices and a dash of salt.

Kati Bihu comes at a time when the year's grains have run out and the traditional winter crop is yet to mature. This particular Bihu has the alternative name of Kangali Bihu, which literally translates into beggar's Bihu (as it is not connected with any feasting). It is celebrated in the month of November. Saki or diyas (earthen lamps) are lit in paddy fields every evening praying for a good harvest.

Assam is an amalgamation of a variety of tribes. Every tribe has their Bihu among other festivals.

The Ahoms, among the first to have established a kingdom in Assam in 1228 AD and brought the fragmented Asom together, celebrate Poi-Chankien Ancestor (Dam) worship is the main feature of their Bihu.

Tai-Ahoms call the deceased one (Dam) as Na Dam (Na = new; Dam = dead), Chi-ren- Dam (Chi = four; ren = house, thus meaning the fourth generation of dead parents of the dead grandfather of the living house owner); Ghai-Dam (Ghai = Main; the main dead grandparents of the living house owner); and Jakarura Dam (the collective dead ones who died unnaturally).

Before the Dam post, several offerings are given and the priestly classes of Ahoms chant Tai-Ahoms hymns. They celebrate with traditional rituals such as eating Amroli-tup (Amroli is a species of reddish-brown ant which is fried with duck egg) and pork; as well as drinking Luk -- lao or rice beer.

Boros, another prominent tribe of Assam, celebrate the Bohag Bihu festival as Bwisago (which means the starting of the new year) by performing the folk Bagurumba dance.  The Baisagu festival is observed at the beginning of the first month of the Assamese year, which is around mid-April.

Similarly, the Deori tribe celebrates Ebaku Bishnu. They celebrate this festival on the first Wednesday of the spring season and this festival is also related to the agricultural cycle. The Deoris, being an agrarian people, enjoy the festivities with unrestricted joy and enthusiasm.

The Dimasa tribe, predominantly found in Assam and Nagaland, celebrates Bushu, which is an annual harvesting festival. The Dimasas celebrate this festival ardently. The festival is celebrated mainly during the end week of the January month and the start of February month. There are week-long programmes that are associated with this festival.

The Hajong tribe celebrate Lewatana as Bihu. They worship goddess Durga and Kali for the betterment of their crops. The Hajongs have a very rich culture that has greatly influenced and had a tremendous impact on the language, clothing, and culture of other tribes like the Koches of Meghalaya, Banias, and Dalus.

The Mising tribe of Assam celebrates Ali-Ai-Ligang, which is held in spring and is associated with agriculture.

The Karbi tribe celebrates Hacha Kekan which is a Post Harvesting festival. They celebrate this festival full of joys in various places in the twin Karbi Anglong districts.

Assam is a mosaic of cultures, traditions, heritage, music, food, festivals, language and people.

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