Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bohag Bihu - Assamese New Year

India is the land of different ethnic groups and all of them have their special cultures and traditions, which have made India a very diverse country. In different regions of India people celebrate different festivals with great pomp and show. Celebration of the New Year amongst the different ethnicities of India is one such event.

Since India is an agrarian economy in most parts of India the New Year celebration marks the beginning of a harvest season. Assam is one such state in the north-east part of India where farming is still the predominant vocation of people. People of Assam celebrate their New Year at the month of Baisakh. The celebration is called Bohag Bihu in Assam.

Bihu is always a great celebration for the Assamese people, and it plays a very crucial role in defining the culture of Assam. Bihu is the only non-religious celebration when all Assamese people, irrespective of class, creed, religion and social status come together to celebrate. Therefore, Bihu is celebrated thrice a year, namely-

  • Bohag Bihu or Rongali Bihu in April,
  • Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu in January
  • Kati Bihu or Kongali Bihu during October and November.
Bohag Bihu during the month of April is celebrated to mark the beginning of the Assamese New Year and therefore it is celebrated with great fun and abundance. Bohag is also the name of the first month of the Assamese calendar.

Origin of the celebration
Celebration of Bihu is an integral part of Assamese tradition. The word Bihu is derived from Dimasa kachari language. Dimasa kachari is a tribe which has lived in Assam since the ancient time. They used to offer the first crop of the season to their supreme God, Brai Shibrai or Father Shibrai and pray for prosperity and peace. For the Dimasa kachari people ‘Bi’ therefore meant ‘to ask’ and ‘Shu’ means ‘peace’. Therefore, ‘Bihu’ can be described as an occasion when Assamese people ask for peace to their God.

In Assam Bohag Bihu is also known as ‘Rongali Bihu’. In the Assamese language the word “rong” means joy. Hence, Bohag Bihu is the time for Assamese for celebration and merriment.

Bohag Bihu signifies the celebration of farming, especially paddy, and therefore foods play a very crucial role when Assamese people prepare an array of special items at their homes.

The spirit of Bohag Bihu
Bihu is always celebrated with great joy. Bohag Bihu in particular is the greatest celebration for the people of Assam. The day of Bihu is considered to be very auspicious by the Assamese and therefore women clean and decorate their houses, wash clothes, and prepare special Bihu delicacies.

Men, on the other hand, stay busy in collecting other important items that are necessary for celebrating Bihu, like- Tara Pogha (ropes for cattle) and vegetables (raw turmeric, brinjal, and gourd). The vegetables will be used in Garu Bihu a celebration that takes place on the next day of Bohag Bihu.

Since agriculture is still the predominant trade of the people of Assam the first day of Bihu is dedicated to the cattle (Goru/cow). The cattle play a very crucial role in the lives of Assamese people. Cows are used for plowing as well as are considered as the sign of prosperity for the owner. Special offering are therefore made to the cattle. On the day of Bihu the cows and bullocks are specially bathed and then decorated with garlands and flowers. Their hoofs and horns are also painted. A special fodder of cut vegetables such as- brinjal, gourd is offered. Their old ropes are replaced with new one. On this day cattle are allowed to graze at any field without any restriction. The cowsheds are cleaned and people light up oil lamps and incense sticks to ward off mosquitoes and ill omens.

As is the custom the Assamese people take a special bath on that day and then the younger ones seek blessing of their elders. The next day is called Manuh Bihu when special dishes of flattened rice, curds, and jaggery and sweets are prepared and enjoyed. On this day the formal inauguration of the Bihu celebration, ‘Bihu Husori’, is also made at the Namghar or the Prayer hall.

On the third day of the celebration, which is called Gosain Bihu, deities are worshiped.

Bihu is a community festival when all people of Assam come together to celebrate the occasion. During this period all differences in terms of religion, caste, creed, social or economic are forgotten and everybody celebrate it with unity. Special dance ceremonies as well as competitions are held at different neighborhoods. People visit each others’ houses and distribute gifts and sweets. Assamese people don on their traditional garments, which is the ‘Mekhla’ for women and vest and dhoti with special Assamese ‘gamocha’ for men. Special hand-woven ‘gamocha’ is also given to the elders as a sign of respect. The special dance performed during the Bihu is called Bihu dance and Assamese people are popular worldwide for these special dance form.

Bihu is the single most important celebration in Assam. Although, the original celebration of Bohag Bihu last only for three days the festivity continues for almost a month. During this time schools, educational institutes and offices remain closed as people spontaneously take part in Bihu celebration.

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