Bihu Festival

 ‘Bihu’- the Assamese Festival of Love, Joy, and Merriment

Come April and the atmosphere in Assam takes a completely different vibe. The vibe of festivity, merriment, and utmost joy! It’s Bihu festival time! 

‘অতিকৈ চেনেহৰ মূগাৰে মহুৰা

 তাতোকৈ চেনেহৰ মাকো

তাতোকৈ চেনেহৰ ৰঙালী বিহুটি

নেপাতি কেনেকৈ থাকোঁ’’

Bihu is the important cultural festival of Assam. It is the primary festival celebrated with much fervor by the Assamese people across the state and all over the world irrespective of color, creed, religion, faith, and belief.

 

Bihu Dance
Bihu Dance

Image Source: Adotrip

Types of Bihu

There are three main types of Bihu celebrated in different periods across the year.

  • Rongali Bihu (or the Bohag Bihu),
  • Kongali Bihu (or the Kati Bihu) and
  • Bhogali Bihu (or the Magh Bihu)

The Rongali Bihu falls in April (which is the Bohag month in Assamese), Kongali Bihu falls in the mid of October (which is Kati month in Assamese) and the Bhogali Bihu falls in January (which is Magh month in Assamese). However, among these three Bihu types, the Rongali Bihu is celebrated with much pomp and festivity.

Origin:

In terms of the origin of Bihu, there are two primary schools of thought. One school holds that the word Bihu originated from the language of Dimasa Kacharis and Bodo. Another school of thought holds that word Bihu originated from the Sanskrit word ‘Vishu’ meaning the vernal equinox of the winter solstice. The three Bihu coincides with the farming calendar. They are also recognized as a celebration of the farming season in various periods. As the traditional Assamese population is mostly engaged in agriculture, the Bihu festival is thus associated with farming.

 

Bihu Festival
Bihu Dance

Image Source: Joydeep Hazarika

Rongali Bihu

The Rongali Bihu is the most important among all the three Bihus. As this Bihu falls in the Assamese month of Bohag, it is also popularly called ‘Bohag Bihu’. This Bihu falls in the middle of April during the beginning of the Assamese month Bohag. It is celebrated to mark the beginning of the agricultural season. The Assamese New Year also starts with this Bihu. Bohag Bihu is celebrated in different forms in different parts of India. In northern state Punjab, the same festival is celebrated as ‘Baisakhi’ and similarly different places have other names and their versions. Rongali Bihu is celebrated for around a month with different festivities going on throughout the Bohag month. The people rejoice in the Bohag Bihu festival with much joy and fervor and feasting starts initially and farmers ready the fields for the paddy cultivation process. Womenfolk of the village and urban areas prepare delicacies like pitha, laru, jolpan (these are traditional food items prepared predominantly from rice).

Goru and Manuh Bihu

The first day of the Rongali Bihu is known as Goru or Cow Bihu. On this day, all cows and cattle herd are washed and religiously worshipped. This day falls on the last day of the previous year. The cattle herd is smeared with oiled turmeric paste, bathed in rivers and streams, and then left to stray. During the evening time when the cows return home, the owners cast away the old cattle bindings and use new ropes after worshipping and well feeding the cattle. The next day, which is the first day of the Assamese New Year is the Manuh Bihu. On this day (which generally falls on April 15th), people get cleaned up and wear new clothes. Elders are shown respect and the young take blessings from them. People visit relatives and friends’ houses to greet the New Year with joy. The third day of Bohag Bihu is known as the Gosai (God) Bihu. On this day, statues of Gods are worshipped seeking a prosperous year ahead. The Rongali Bihu is the most widely celebrated Bihu with much festivity.

Bihu Geet

Bihu Geets are popular Bihu songs and are a crucial part of the Bihu festival. The lyrics of the songs blend in from narrating natural beauty to a lover’s expression, from the social awareness issues to the humorous tales. One of the major folk cultures of the Bihu festival, Bihu songs are widely popular and the playing includes using a variety of instruments in its fold. The songs express the traditions and rich culture of Assam and Assamese.

 

Image Source: Sentinelassam

Bihu dance

Bihu dance is the folk dance of Assam. It is a joyous dance performed by both men and women in groups. The dance is characterized by brisk steps accentuated by expressive hand movements. Though both male and female dancers dance in various formations, the rhythm and coordination of the dance are the same and significant in the Bihu dance. The female Bihu dance has many variations and the dance has different stages from dancing forms to dancing in coordination with the instruments played. The stages include freehand, twisting, dancing with the rhythm of the pepa blowing, with the kahi, and the jaapi. There are different forms of Bihu dance like the Mising Bihu dance and Deori Bihu dance for the different sub-class of Assamese culture.

Husori

Husori is another important aspect of Bihu. Here the village elders move from household to household singing Bihu geet and performances. People welcome the Husori groups traditionally into their home courtyards and seek their blessings on the household after the performances.

 

Bihu Festival
Mukoli Bihu in open field

Image Source: Joydeep Hazarika

Mukoli Bihu

The Mukoli Bihu form witness young unmarried men and women donning rich traditional golden silk muga dresses. They perform the Bihu dance together and also sing Bihu songs in open fields.

Jeng Bihu

Jeng Bihu is performed and watched solely by women. The name ‘Jeng’ is derived from the fact that in an earlier time, village women used to surround their place of performance with sticks dug into the ground. Jeng Bihu form is also popularly known as Gos tolor Bihu.

 

Bihu Dance
Bihutoli Dance

Image Source: Northeast Now

Bihutoli Bihu

The Bihutoli Bihu is the urban form of Bihu we see today, where the cultural rural festival transited to the modernized urban life of the cities. Bihutoli Bihu first started in the Latasil field in Guwahati, organized by the Guwahati Bihu Sanmilani in 1962. It was promoted by noted personalities like Radha Govinda Baruah, Khagen Mahanta. In this form of Bihu celebration, dancers perform together in a makeshift elevated podium which is popularly called Bihutoli. However, Bihutoli Bihu doesn’t restrict the performances solely to Bihu dances. The performances include a range of other theatrical shows; other dance forms performances, solo singer concerts, and stand-up comedy, among others. The stage Bihu form has become so popular that different Bihu organizers have extended the celebrations to Bohagi Bidai, which is celebrated for bidding adieu to the festive Bohag month.

Instruments used in Bihu

Bihu celebration is insignificant with the traditional instruments of Assam. There are a variety of instruments that are used during Bihu performances, Bihu geets, and dances. Some of them are:

 

Dhol
Dhol Instrument

Image Source: Asia InCH

Dhol

It is a prominent and vital instrument of Assamese culture and identity. Dhol is a percussion instrument much like a drum. Made of a wooden barrel, it is played with a stick and the palm on each side. The Dhol beats portray the life of Assamese culture. A beat from the Dhol makes one swirl and dance to the rhythmic flow.

Taal

It is a small cymbal instrument. There are different types of Taal.

 

Pepa
Pepa Instrument

Image Source: Telegraph India

Pepa

Pepa is a flute-like musical instrument used in Bihu. It is a small stem capped with a buffalo horn. The sounds of the Pepa are notable and striking.

 

Gogona
Woman playing the Gogona instrument

Image Source: Joydeep Hazarika

Other instruments used in Bihu performances include the Toka, Gagana, Xutuli, and Baanhi (flute).

 

Bhogali
Bhogali Spread

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Bhogali Bihu

Bhogali Bihu is also called Magh Bihu as it falls on the Assamese month of Magh. It is also the Bihu celebrating harvest when food is available in abundance. That is why it is known as Bhogali for eating and enjoyment (Bhog means food). This Bihu marks the end of the harvesting period and granaries at this time are full. There is a lot of feasting and eating during this Bihu.

The eve of the Bhogali Bihu day is called the Uruka. On this day, the young men folk go to the nearby field and build a makeshift cottage call Bhelaghar and also a Meji with hay. During the night, the people of the village cook in the Bhelaghar, and a community feast occurs. The entire night is spent in the Meji merrymaking and playing games. Men and boys roam the courtyards and steal vegetables and firewood as fun. In the morning, the people take a bath and then burn the Meji. They offer pithas to the burning Meji and pray to the Fire God to mark the end of the harvesting season. The day is marked by different types of sports like buffalo fight, egg fight, and cockfight.

 

Kongali Bihu
Kongali Bihu

Image Source: Office Holidays

Kongali Bihu

Kongali Bihu is also known as Kati Bihu as it falls on the Assamese month of Kati. It falls in mid-October and is the Bihu of less merriment. This Bihu is characterized with a feeling of solemnity as the granaries are almost empty during this season. On this Bihu, people light earthen lamps in front of the tulsi plant, the granary, garden, and paddy fields and the cattle are fed pithas. This Bihu is associated with the lighting of the earthen lamp or ‘akaxbonti’ on the tip of a bamboo pole to show the souls of the dead the way to heaven.

 

Bihu Festival
Bihu 

Image Source: London Bihu Committee 

Celebration of Bihu outside Assam

Bihu is a celebration all across the state of Assam with much merriment. It is also celebrated by Assamese people across India and the world. The Assamese people living in states across India celebrate by conducting functions in Assamese societies. Likewise, abroad, different Bihu associations and communities celebrate this festival with great enthusiasm. The London Bihu Committee is one of the significant groups amongst others.

The three forms of Bihu are glorious and important in their identity and significance. If Rongali Bihu is all about color and festivity, Bhogali Bihu is about reaping the results of a good harvest through feasting and merry-making. Kongali Bihu is praying to the Lord for a good and bountiful harvest. It sums up that the ‘harvest’ is an essential element of Bihu and Assamese culture. Bihu is truly a special festival and occasion for everyone to gather and enjoy a good gathering!

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