'Celebrate Bhogali Bihu in true spirit'
With the harvest in, graries stocked, bhelaghors and mejis erected, and delicacies prepared — the State is all set for the Uruka feasting on Thursday night, to be followed by the holy bath and sacred Meji bonfire on Friday morning to mark Makar Sankranti. The character of Bhogali Bihu, as it has come to be celebrated in Assam over the years, has been undergoing a sea change. The Sentinel spoke to senior citizens across the State to elicit their views on the changing traditions of this primarily agrarian festival.
Jay Kanta Gandhia, leading expert on Bihu culture and Bihu songs, believes that Bhogali Bihu must be appreciated and observed in its proper spirit. Contacted at his Digboi residence, Gandhia expressed unhappiness with the manner Bhogali Bihu is being celebrated in the State. Taking serious issue with some private TV channels, he said that they have distorted Bhogali Bihu celebration by mixing up elements of Rongali Bihu with it. “If the joyful mood of the spring festival in Bohaag is grafted onto the celebration of Bhogali Bihu, it will go against tradition and confuse the new generation. Bhogali Bihu performances are now being rendered by young girls dancing on stage to Rongali Bihu rhythms, which is totally ucceptable,” he said. Gandhia has also criticized the trend of designer ‘bhelaghars’ in the line of gaily decorated Puja mandaps and ever increasing heights of Mejis.
Dr Pabin Das, retired Professor, Gauhati University, said that Bihu has a complex culture associated with it, “Organisers and artistes, as well as the people in general, must value and hold on to its heritage or they will forget it. The electronic media has mixed up the Bihus and taken it into our homes, then the capitalists have got onto it and changed its character. Professiol Bihu tune-based songs on CDs are drowning out the music of the soil. The drum rolls inviting rain-bearing clouds during Bohaag and the dances to make the Spring earth fertile, have no place in Magh,” he pointed out.
Nirmal Gogoi, former scientist, NERIST, when contacted at his Tarazan residence in Jorhat, said that Bhogali Bihu has lost much of its spontaneous joy as structured cultural programmes take its place. “Only those with money have the prerogative of bhog (consumption) nowadays, which is the result of neo-liberalism that has taken hold of our society. Our farmers do not get the right price for their produce. The markets are off limits to the majority with little purchasing power,” he rued.
rendra th Sarma, retired Professor, Damadama College, said that every generation tries to shape society according to its own logic, and the Bihu tradition in Assam is no exception. “Dhenkis are disappearing in our villages, so dhenkis at Bhogali melas in Guwahati go to prove that our people want to hold onto this tradition. But the lack of work ethic among the Assamese people means they are in danger of losing their identity,” he warned.
Sabin Chandra Mahanta, retired teacher, Tamulpur, reminisced warmly about the innocent joy, the unity and harmony once associated with Bhogali Bihu. “Bihu has now become a commodity to be marketed and consumed, trapped in a mechanical age. The farmers who make all this consumption possible with their intelligence and back-breaking labour remain neglected. Proponents of glamour are occupying centre-stage. But we must remain hopeful to hold on to the glorious traditions of this festival,” he said.
Dr Gobinda Das, retired subject teacher, Rajdhar Bora HS school said: “The new generation must be taken on board to appreciate and imbibe the true Bihu spirit. It is after all our way of life. Magh Bihu may be getting urbanised, but the meji, dhenki and other elements associated with it should remain tural, only then will its heritage be preserved.”
Ajit Saikia, subject teacher, Oil India HS school, Duliajan, said: “The joy of feasting and celebrating with the produce of one’s own labour from the fields can never be replicated by commodities bought from the market. The markets are any way getting out of reach with sky-high prices. So the spontaneity of Bhogali Bihu has given way to a formality and commodification.”
Girindra Kakati, teacher, Dharapur HS school said that without preserving traditions, ther can be no preserving culture or heritage, because the real picture of the life of a people or community lie hidden there.”During the reign of the Ahom kings, Rongali Bihu reached the kareng ghar; then in the 1950s, stage bihu came to Guwahati, and now Rongali Bihu is played out on the TV screen during Bhogali Bihu and Kati Bihu too! We must remember what Bezbaruah had said — that our Bihu should remain as it is.”