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Thursday, June 8, 2023

 Bihu: An Assamese National Identity 

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Imtiaz Ullah
Imtiaz Ullahhttps://nomadlawyer.org/about/
Imtiaz Ullah is the founder of travel website - NomadLawyer. A Corporate Lawyer, Senior Travel Correspondent, The Traveller Trails magazine and also acts as an Advisory Member, NGO - Sarvahitey. His travel philosophy is exploring new places, meeting new people, knowing the culture, eating like a local. He always believes in the idea-“ Don't just be a traveller but a Responsible one”.

Bihu is an instrument of the Assamese national identity.

My fascination with Bihu started when I was a kid and started writing essays on Bihu during my school days in the Assamese language. During my childhood, when I read Bihu essays, I was intrigued by such a colorful festival which at the same time has so much cultural significance. Bihu is basically the identity of an Assamese and it is irrespective of any religion.

The genesis of this festival has a lot to do with the geography of Assam, and its unique socio-historical life as realised in the many friendships and unities so characteristic of this region. As and when Bihu makes an appearance, which is thrice in a calendar year, it breathes life  into the masses.

Out of the three Bihus, the one that is most synonymous with festivity and merriment and the beginning of the Assamese calendar year is the Bohag Bihu (held in mid-April, or the Assamese month of Bohag). 

Through this blog we will delve into Bohag Bihu, Team NomadLawyer wishes everyone A Happy Bohag Bihu.

Bohag Bihu rejoices in the change of nature’s hues, and announces the start of a fresh new season, where the great ensemble of flora, fauna, and people usher in a mood of renewal. 

Such power is the symbolism of Bohag Bihu that it is nothing less than a synesthetic experience, which is why it is also called Rongali Bihu (Rongali—mirthful). Plants and flowers further signify the temporality of Bohag. The most popular among them is nahor (Indian rose chestnut) and kopou (foxtail orchid). Nahor holds a special place Bihu songs.

The Seven Days Of Bohag Bihu

The seven days of the Bohag Bihu is known as the Xaat Bihu (Seven Bihu). The names differ according to the communities that observe it and the geographical location where they are situated. 

Two days are of importance here—the day of the Goru Bihu (dedicated to cattle) and Maanuh Bihu (dedicated to people). 

Raati Bihu: It begins on the first night of the month of Chot. This phase is performed under an ancient tree or in an open area illuminated by burning torches. 

Chot Bihu: This phase marks the beginning on the second day of the month of Chot Mah and the day is marked by Bihu songs and dances. 

Goru Bihu: This phase is associated with the agricultural roots of Assam and the significance of livestock. On the day of the Goru Bihu, the croppers beat their cattle with sticks made of two plants, dighloti and makhioti. They would insert brinjal and gourd in bamboo sticks and throw them at their cattle while chasing them to the river to bathe them. Along the way, they would shout: lao kha bengena kha bosore bosore barhi jaa—eat gourd, eat brinjal, and grow year after year.

Manuh Bihu: The phase marks the first day of Vaisakh month of the Hindu calendar (Manuh refers to elders). It involves the tradition of seeking elders’ blessings. 

Kutum Bihu: The second day of the month of Vaisakh month and involves the tradition of people visiting their relatives and friends and the day is marked with sumptuous lunch or dinner. 

Mela Bihu: This is the third day of Bihu and is marked with cultural events and competitions. 

Chera Bihu: Also known as Bohagi Bidai, it’s the fourth and final day of Rongali Bihu with the celebration concluding with future resolutions.

How Bohag Bihu is celebrated

Bohag Bihu is celebrated with colourful and vibrant clothes with young boys and girls donning dhuti, gamosa and saadar mekhela while they perform Bihu songs and dance showcasing the culture and the significance of Bohag Bihu. At several places, the festival witnesses Bihu fairs where people of Assam gather to take part in games and enjoy Assamese delicacies.

But Sometimes A Sad Reality Hits

Nowadays, with urbanisation, Bihu also has become a product of stage competitions and Bihu-xuriya and modern songs. I can’t imagine in my wildest of dreams, when I heard a Bihu Song in a Psychedelic Trance from. I was like, where have we reached! But the question remains is it progression or forgetting our roots? We can debate this some other time but at the moment enjoy the festival Bihu and I consider it as one of the best time in a year 

Bihu has manifested itself in different forms with the changing social, political, and ecological circumstances of Assam. 

The organic unity of Bihu, its ethno-ecological setting, and its cultural expressions have changed, and as a society we need to come to terms with this reality.

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Some photos contributed by my friend Anindya Baruah(Ronty)

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