| Literally 'spring', this is the most important festival
in Assam and occurs three times a year. In April, it is called Rongali or Bohag
Bihu, in October November Kati Bihu, and in January, coinciding with Makara Sankranti,
it is called Bhogali Bihu. Thus the festival celebrates the three seasons of spring,
important to the largely pastoral people of Assam. It is in thanks giving or a
prayer with the hope of having a good harvest to the earth, sun, cattle, and the
implements to which a farmer owes his living.
|| Rongali or Bohag Bihu, celebrated in April, is the
most important. It is celebrated for three days and ushers in the New Year for
the Assamese people. It is also a precursor to the harvest and marks the advent
of the spring and the rains. On the first day called Goru Bihu, cows are worshipped.
In the morning, their feet are washed; horns and hoofs are painted various colors
and are adorned with flower garlands. The cows are driven through the village
followed by a troupe of musicians, to a near by pond or river. Here they are given
a ceremonial bath. Their old ropes are cut and they are let loose for the day.
On this day, they are permitted to pasture in any field without restraint. On
returning from the river, the younger people seek the blessings of their elders.
Everyone bathes with special paste called mati mah. In the evening, when the cows
return home, they are tied with new ropes. Some people also light oil lamps and
incense in the cowsheds to ward off mosquitoes and illness.
| On the next day, called Manuh Bihu, special dishes
made of flattened rice, curds, and jaggery and sweets are prepared and eaten.
The third day is called Gosain Bihu and is dedicated to the worship of deities.
On all three days of the festival, troupes of musicians and dancers visit houses
and perform the Bihu dance in the open. Young men and women participate in this
rhythmic dancing, which was traditionally reserved for unmarried girls and was
also a ground for many marital alliances. In earlier times, women were confined
to their home, occasionally lending a hand in the fields.
On Bihu however, they were allowed a certain amount of freedom to mix with young
men. The women wear tightly wound cream and red saris and men wear the traditional
dhoti. Because of the tight fitting saris, dancing takes the form of short steps
to rhythmic music with an artistic bending of the hips, shoulders and hands. The
dance is accompanied by extremely frivolous and playful songs, the theme of each
being coyness, sometimes even wantonness, on the part of the women, and entreaties
and endearments on the part of the men. On the last two days of Bihu, a piece
of heavily embroidered cloth called gamocha is given to elders as a form of respect,
and their good wishes are sought in return.
|Kati Bihu is a one-day festival in autumn in the
month of Kartik. Kati literally means Kartik. It occurs just after the fields
have been sown. This is a solemn affair, and there is no feasting, as the granaries
are empty. The festival is hence also called Kangali Bihu, the poor or bankrupts
Bihu. After a ritual bath, people keep a day - long fast and pray to the tulasi
plant. In the evening, earthen lamps are lit and placed near the basil and banana
plants, granary, the backyard and the fields. Prayers are also offered at these
places to protect the seedlings from any damage or danger and also for a good
crop. After this ceremonial lighting of lamps, people visit each otherís homes
and exchange greetings and sweets.
| Bhogali Bihu is celebrated in Magha immediately
after the winter harvest. The word 'bhogali' comes from bhoga, which translates
to 'feast', and the festival is essentially one off eating and merry making after
a good harvest. Every villager contributes in some way or the other to this feast.
Special structures called meji, made of hay from the newly harvested field, banana
leaves and green bamboo stalks, are constructed in the fields.