The twelfth month closes the year with a lot of zeal and fervor for the new hopes of new beginnings. The chilled months give a kick-start to a new year in cool way so that everyone bucks up for the colourful soul of spring, hot and humid summer, wet rainy seasons, and so on. Then comes the harvest festivals. These are the kind of festivals that symbolically prove that hard work reaps sweet results. It marks the significance of our existence. Bihu is one of them. Assamese have immense love for the spirit of Bihu. Broadly, for a hardcore Assamese, entire year can be summed in three Bihus: “Magh Bihu”also called as “BhogaliBihu”or “Magha Domahi” (in January); Bohag Bihu and Kati Bihu.
The Harvest festival of Assam which marks the end of harvesting season in the month of Maagha is known as Magh Bihu (Bhogali). This Bihu is known for its food. Wherever you go in Assam, whichever house you enter, you will be served with a huge spread of delicacies.
Characterized by merry-making and feasting, this Bihu marks the end of the harvesting season which brings abundance of everything. Though this is the time when the hard working and patient farmers sit down to reap the benefits of their efforts. However, it is not limited to the agricultural pockets of the state only, as one can find smallest of the villages to the big cities and towns of Assam celebrating this festival with great joy.
Magh Bihu celebrations start on the last day of “Pooh”month, called as “Uruka.” People gather around bonfire, cook among themselves and enjoy traditional food while their traditional Bihu songs are played in the background. That’s why the festival is marked by Feasts and Bonfire. People also erect make shifts huts made of bamboo, leaves and thatch known as “Bhelaghar”and erect a huge pile of wood known as “Meji” which is burnt next morning and offer prayer to fire god by offering special cakes (Pitha) made of rice (Shunga Pitha) Til Pitha,” Coconut Laru” (Narikal Ladu), etc., and shower blessings, love and affection to all near and dear ones.
On this occasion, we asked some of the people to share their feelings for Bihu festival. Starting with Prerana Barbarooah, Film Director. She expressed, “Precious memories of building bhela ghars, feasting around the bonfire and that big fat delicious breakfast at Mom’s- Magh Bihu remains a gastronomic favourite of all the festivals. We continue the tradition of praying to the Fire God in the morning, visiting family and trying to lay out a near impressive breakfast spread, though some of the delicacies are store bought, unlike Mom’s. May the spirit of unity, joy and generosity of Bhogali Bihu continue to shine on in every home.”
Dr. Geeta Baruah Nath, HOD Obs & Gyne Department, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon shared, “At the outset I would like to wish the people of Assam for Bhogali Bihu, a festival which is close to the heart of Assamese people. The Harvest festival of Assam which marks the end of harvesting season in the month of Maagha (Jan-Feb) is well known as “Magh Bihu”also called “Bhogali Bihu”or “Magha Domahi”.
It is the celebration of “Makar Sankranti” in Assam with Feast and enjoyment among the community which brings the people together and united. People also erect make shifts huts with bamboo, leaves and thatch, and it is known as “Bhelaghar” and also erect a pile of wood known as “meji,” which is burnt next morning and offer prayer to “Agni” by offering special cakes (Pitha) made of rice (Shunga Pitha) Til Pitha,” Coconut Laru”etc., and shower blessings, love and affection to all near and dear ones. Since childhood we look forward to enjoy in Magh Bihu and grand feast with Bonfire and even if we are away from Assam physically but our heart is with our motherland and celebrate Magh Bihu all over India and worldwide.”
Magh Bihu is observed in the month of January, while Rongali and Kongali Bihu are celebrated in the month of April and October, respectively. Bhogali Bihu, the name is derived from the word “Bhog” means food and clearly indicates that this festival is all about eating and enjoying. It marks the end of harvesting season. The granaries are full; therefore, there are a lot of feasting and eating during this period. On the eve of the day called Uruka, men go to the field, preferably near a river to build a makeshift cottage called Bhelaghar with the hay of the harvest fields, and the bonfire or Meji, the most important thing for the night. During the night, they prepare food and there is community feasting everywhere.
This Bihu builds in a sense of togetherness as the family eats together, and the sense of sharing joys. While, the photos of ice-clad trees and areas covered with snow, in Meghalaya are trending on social media, Assam is also getting its piece of winter beauty. The Guwahatians are experiencing chilling breezes and cool atmosphere here. Though the weather is absolutely ideal to cuddle the blankets and squeezing into the furry quilts, the spirit of Bihu is not lagging behind even by an inch.
Vasavi Acharya, MD Tender Petals, Director, D N Acharya Foundation for Children and Women Welfare shared, “Being an Assamese heart and soul, Bihu is instilled my veins like life blood. Magh Bihu, one of my favourite among the 3 Bogus, is celebrated in January and marks the harvest season, when it's time to fill in the store houses with the freshly harvested grains. This festival is filled with happiness, as there is an abundance of everything. The festivities start with URUKA, which is a joint feast for the entire neighbourhood, where everyone contributes and eats together. The next morning the people burn a MAJI made of wood and hay, which is a symbol of burning out negativity in the lives of all. Then everyone visits their near and dear ones and celebrate the festival. This Bihu I wish that everyone be blessed with a lot of happiness and prosperity.”
Considering the modern lifestyle, many of us, including the generation of teenagers and youth, tend to drift away from the traditional culture and festivals. To the question mark on how to let children know and understand the value of their native festival, Ms. Bora replied, “Bihu is a traditional festival of the North-east region. Tender Petals, pre-school celebrates the three Bihu (Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu, Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu and Kati Bihu or Kongali Bihu) with the students to keep them rooted to the culture and tradition of this region. In Magh Bihu, the main attraction for the children are the delicacies like til-pitha, tekeli-pitha, ladoo, payas (rice-pudding) etc., made from rice powder, coconut, sesame seeds and various other local ingredients. Children are made to taste these delicacies and a cooking competition for mothers is also kept at the Tender Petals centres.”
She made it a point to mention that Bihu dance plays an important role in grooming the children about Bihu."At the time of Bohag Bihu, usually a Bihu dance workshop of around five days is arranged at our schools for children to learn the dance form. Parents are also involved in these workshops. On the day before the festival starts, a small display of traditional items like japi, gamusa, kopou phul, baan- baati, pepa, dhol (musical instruments), mekhela-chador, gam-kharu, bena (traditional dress and jewellery) are showed to the children and celebrations are observed. On Kati Bihu, children participate in the planting of Tulsi plant at the Tender Petals centres and light a diya for the growth and prosperity of the people. During each celebration, a discussion about the same is done so that the children understand the significance of what they are celebrating. Activities and crafts like japi-making, pepa-making are also taught to the children.” Inculcating the knowledge coupled with experiencing the motifs of the festival, since childhood, is the real solution.
Bihu is one of key Axomia festivals. It is known by different names in different parts of India, in fact, in the world. It is known as “Hadaga” in Maharashtra; “Pongal” in Tamil Nadu and Kerala; “Lohri” in Punjab (mostly celebrated the night before Makar Sankranti known as “Maghi”) and Haryana; and “Makar Sankranti” in Chhattisgarh, Goa, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and many other states.
The Hadaga festival in Maharashtra is celebrated to offer prayers for a good monsoon; hence a good harvest. People sing songs in praise of Indra and pray for rain. Pictures of the elephant which is Indra's vehicle (“Airavat”) are drawn everywhere to invite the God. The festival is also marked by the flying of kites in the sky. People exchange multi-colored tilguls (sesame and sugar) and til-laddus made from til and jaggery. Til-polis are offered for lunch. While exchanging tilguls, people greet each other saying - 'til-gul ghya, god god bola' meaning 'accept these tilguls and speak sweet words'.
This is also a special day for the women in Maharashtra, as married women are invited for a get-together called 'Haldi-Kumkum' and given gifts of any utensil, which the woman of the house purchases on that day. A newlywed woman gives away oil, cotton and sesame seeds. This is believed to long life and prosperity upon her and her family.
Lohri holds a huge significance for the people of Punjab and Haryana. For them, it is a festival to worship fire. During this time, Earth starts moving towards the sun marking the period of Uttarayan. First Lohri is very important for the newlywed and the new born babies as it marks fertility. Parents give presents to their newlywed daughters. Lohri marks the beginning of a new financial year for the peasants as they settle the division of the products of the land between them and the tillers. The main event is the gathering around a huge bonfire, which is symbolic of the homage paid to the Sun God for bringing in warmth.
Harvested fields and the front yards are lit up with flames of bonfires, and people gather in a circle around it to meet friends and relatives and sing folk songs. They take parikrama of the bonfire many times while throwing puffed rice, popcorn and other munchies into the fire, and offering prayers to the fire God, "Aadar aye dilather jaye" (May honor come and poverty vanish) to be blessed with prosperity, and sing popular folk songs. Lohri celebrates fertility and the joy of life. Normally, they do the traditional dinner ofmakki-ki-roti and sarson-ka-saag.
Makar Sankranti, also known as Maghi, is both a Hindu festival revering the sun god as well as a marker of the first day of sun's transit into the Makara (Capricorn) that marks the end of the month with the winter solstice and the start of longer days. It is observed in the month of January, every year and always falls on the same Gregorian date every year i.e. January 14, except when the date shifts by a day due to the complexity of earth-sun relative movements. Temples and holy places decorated colorfully, troupes of bhajan-kirtan and children go to places singing songs in the praise of the God, and asking for treats and “chanda”. People bathe in lakes and holy rivers to express their gratitude to the Sun God and wash away the sins. Many offer their prayers at the Prayaga, confluence of River Ganga and Yamuna, during Kumbh Mela. Makar Sankranti traces back to the era of Mahabharata, around 2000 years back as the epic holy book contains the mention of Magh Mela (According to a Harvard University professor).
Coming back to Bihu, we must not forget that Bihu is also characterized by its music and dance. It is an indigenous folk dance of Assam and is an important part of Assamese culture. Performed in a group, the Bihu dancers are usually young men and women, and the dancing style is characterized by brisk steps, and rapid hand movements, mostly in circle and semi-circles. Yes, the hip movements are also this dance form’s distinguishing feature. The traditional costume of dancers is colorful and centred round the red colour theme (mostly white/ cream with red combination), signifying joy and vigour. The origins of the dance form is unclear though, however, the folk dance tradition has its traces in the cultures of many ethnic groups of Assamese, such as Deoris, Sonowal Kacharis, Chutias, Moran and Borahis, among others. The first official endorsement is cited to be when Ahom king Rudra Singha invited Bihu dancers to perform at the Ranghar fields around 1694 on the eve of Rongali Bihu.
Namrata Tiwari Talukdar, Bharatnatyam & Manipuri Dancer and Therapeutic Dance/ Movement Facilitator shared, “A beautiful festival of joy and celebration that brings people closer to one another, lots of sweets that include pithas and larus to spread sweetness, the fire of meji to keep us warm, the dance and music that keeps us alive, the festival that represents no caste, creed or religion. It truly represents the essence of togetherness and peace. I wish every soul a joyful, healthy, prosperous and happiest Magh Bihu ahead.” Risha Deka Dutta, Fashion & Textile Designer shared, “Being myself as a fashion & textile designer I always want to present my collection made of handsome fabrics keeping in mind to explore the warmth of North Eastern Fabrics to the international fashion world. I love Eri ,Muga Silk fabric and Assamese Jewellery. Also, I love Assamese motifs like Japi, Kingkhab, Dhol, Jonbiri, Pepa, etc. These motifs we can weave in fabric , also we made design for Assamese jewelry. My favorite motif is Jaapi, the hat like headgear, keeps significant importance in Assamese cultural and society.
Meeta (Choudhury) Dutta - Lawyer, Social Activist, Model & Actor celebrating the spirit of Bihu wished, “Let Magh Bihu 2019 usher in more humaneness in humans and bring peace marking the end of worries, insecurity and fear with the burning of ‘mejis’! Let there be merrymaking, feasting and celebration of life! Enjoy the festive season! Wishing happiness, joy, prosperity and success in abundance to everyone!!!”