Friday, March 30, 2007

Bihu in Asom: A Time to Celebrate

The existence of Bihu in Asomiya society speaks volume about Asomiya culture as being agricultural. To begin with, Bihu is a harvest festival. Probably, harvest festivals are the only occasions where we can really trace back our lineage to a pagan, primitive life much before civilization, even before the birth of religion.
We till fields and it gives us provisions. The soil is our mother. We thank her for the crop we gather. We celebrate the fruit of our toil and hope for a better future. This is the how and why a harvest festival.
Surprisingly, however, Asomiya culture is not happy at having just only one festival. Asom has total three different Bihus spread around strategically in different months of the year.
Despite having diverse cultural differences, the ethos of India is finally identical. It is the same root from where various stems of diverse customs and traditions arise. Therefore it is no surprising to see that the major of the three Asomiya Bihus, called Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu, have its counterpart in several other Indian communities: Baishakhi in Punjab, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and so on.
Rongali Bihu is the festival of merriment and joy, as the name suggests. It marks the beginning of the first month of Asomiya calendar, Bohag (15th April – 15th May). More than a harvest festival, Rongali Bihu is a spring festival.
Come April, the dead cold of winter is gone. New leaves appear in the tree, orchids bloom, cuckoo sings, time for merriment.
In an agricultural society, men’s life is blend with his animals. The eve of Bohag Bihu is therefore reserved for the animals, especially cows, called Garu Bihu, the Bihu of the cows. In the morning little children gather different vegetables especially eggplants and white pumpkins, slice them into pieces of dice, and make a garland. Then the animals are led towards pond or nearby river, and are given a good wash, and then are adorned with the vegetable garlands. In the evening selected herbs and plants are brunt and the stable is smoked, so that the animals remain healthy for the coming year.
The next day is the day to show respect to the elders and display love to the loved one. Every one touches feet of their elders and seek blessing. Handkerchiefs and Gamochas, towel-like clothing woven locally, is given as a token of love and respect. The household gathers together along with neighbours and relatives and have grind rice with curd and other delicacies prepared for the occasion.
But Rongali Bihu is especially for the younger generation. They gather together in open fields, and perform Bihu dance and songs. This is time for the young people to communicate their love to each other.
Rongali Bihu runs for total seven days. People enjoy themselves at the change of season and prepare themselves for the coming year.
Seasons change, spring change to summer, summer to autumn. Come autumn, the paddy crop is already sprout into young seedlings. We pray God that no flood, no pestilence should mar our harvest. This is the occasion of another Bihu. There is no merriment. The affluence of harvest is not there. We only wait for a better future. Therefore this Bihu is also called Kangali Bihu or poor Bihu. On the day of the Bihu we go to the fields and light an earthen light to praise the Lord of the corps, and the Goddess of wealth, Laxmi.
In the passage of time, and with the blessings of the Gods above, we gather yellow corps like gold. Our toil over, this is the time to celebrate. After many months of poverty, this time even the poorest of the poor have something to each. So this is Bhagali Bihu, the Bihu of the gourmet.
After the harvest done, we gather together in open fileds and arrange a community feast. The whole village, the entire community pours in. We cook together different delicacies, fish and fowl and enjoy a hearty meal in the night in the company of family, friends, relatives and neighbours.

Thus, in Asom, Bihu is a festival of togetherness, an occasion to share joy and merriment and an excuse to say thanks to the power beyond us for its help.

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