Bihu: The Festival and Culture of Assam

The word Bihu is basically derived from the language of Dimasa Kacharis, which is considered as the agricultural community in the state of Assam in India since ages. The word Bihu was earlier termed as “Bishu” which meant mostly to ask for prosperity from Tribal God.

Bihu Festival is celebrated with great energy and vigour by the community of Assamese People in Assam and also residing out of Assam. This festival holds great importance in the hearts of Assamese people. Bihu festival is marked by family love and bonding. It is celebrated three times a year.

According to Hindu calendar, first one in the month of Magh, which is called Magh or Bhogali Bihu.  In this Bihu, there is feasting and merry-making after the harvest of paddy. Bihu is related to farmers of Assam. On Magh Bihu, prayers are offered to Sun God by burning the Mezi (Thatched Hut) and paying homage to God.  In the month of Kati (Kartik), Kati Bihu or Kongali Bihu is celebrated. This Bihu is celebrated at that time when the sowing of paddy is complete and also the seeds transform into samplings. But, the most important Bihu in Assamese calendar is the Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu. This Bihu is celebrated in the months of Bohaag (Baisakhi) which falls in the months of April. Bohaag Bihu marks the start of Assamese calendar and is considered as the New Year for the Assamese people. People greet each other with enthusiasm and happiness for the coming of spring. There are seven phases of Rongali Bihu.

Kati Bihu

Image Credits: Assam Government

  • The first is the Chot Bihu. This day, Bihu dances are performed in the open fields or “Tiniali” or “Naamghor Bakori”. Young boys and girls dance their hearts out on this day. This dancing is also known as Bali Husori.
  • Then comes the Raati Bihu. This is the first night of the month of Cheitra. This Bihu is not of any importance in today’s world. In this Raati Bihu, only females were allowed to participate and dance. If males wanted to participate, they can play “pepa” from a distance. One of the most important instruments used in this Bihu is “Bholuka Baahor Toka”. Raati Bihu was mostly performed under a giant tree and lights illuminated from all directions.
  • Then comes the Goru Bihu, the worship of cows. As the villagers mostly depend on cows for a living, they offer their prayers to the cows on this day. The day of Sankranti marks the start of Rongali Bihu by washing of cattle. The cattle are washed with Maah Halodhi (black gram and turmeric paste), Makhioti and also throwing pieces of Lau (bottle guard) and Bengena (brinjal). Several types of games are played like Koni Juj (egg fight) etc. The cattle are given pitha to eat and their sheds are properly cleaned.
  • Then comes on the first day of Baisakh month the Manuh Bihu or Bihu for humans. Early morning, people bathe with Maah Halodhi, and they put on new dresses especially for this festival and then lit Saki at Gokhai Ghor (household prayer place). People take blessings of their elders on this day and Gamusa (Assamese Towel) is given to one another. People also exchange clothes as it marks the first day of New Year. The second day of Baisakh is Kutum Bihu. On this day people can visit their relatives and friends without any invitation.
  • Then comes Mela Bihu which is open to all and people can meet freely. Bihu Melas and functions are organised on this day. The finishing day of Rongali Bihu is known as Chera Bihu, also known as Faat Bihu. On this day women collect vegetables and also sing songs and people exchange pithas (Assamese homemade traditional sweets). Rongali Bihu comes to an end on this Bihu.

«Meji at bharalu» av SubhrajitEige arbeid. Lisensiert under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Today Bihu is not only celebrated in Assam but also in different parts of world by the Assamese diaspora. In India alone, Bihu festival is organised every year by different Assamese communities dwelling in big metros like Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, etc. Globally it is organised in USA, UK, Middle East, Australia, Singapore, etc.

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