Bihu Festival of Assam: A Season of Zest

Bihu Festival Dance, Assam.

We wish our readers and guests a Happy Rongali Bihu! Hoping that the noise and celebration we create in Assam has its good vibes felt all over the world, especially on a day when the world saw bombings in Boston, a major earthquake in Iran and a minor one at our home.

Bihu Festival Dance, Assam.
Youths participate vigorously in the Bihu dance.

Three times a year, the fertile plains of Assam come alive with the sound and zest of Bihu. A festival marking the change of seasons and accompanied  by religious activities and great rejoicing. Originating as early as 3500 b.c., the festival of Bihu used to last an entire month back in days, though today, it is a week long celebration owing to the modern work ethic. The most intriguing part of the festival is undoubtedly a no-holds barred dancing session which symbolizes the fertility rites of the original inhabitants of the hilly regions of the Brahmaputra Valley. It was the belief of farmers that the erotic content of the songs and dances would arouse the earth’s body and lead to a bountiful harvest.

Falling under the months of Bohaag (Baisakh, mid April), Maagh (mid January) and Kaati (Kartik, mid October), each Bihu coincides with a certain phase in the farming calendar, the most important being the Rongali or Bohaag Bihu which falls in April and marks the onset of the Assamese New Year and the coming of spring. It also coincides with the Hindu solar calendar and is observed by many other states of India, though called by different names. During this time, the people of Assam celebrate for about seven days; a time of merrymaking and feasting. In the agricultural cycle, it is when the farmers prepare the fields for paddy cultivation with an attitude of joy. Women on the other hand indulge in cooking, where food items such as pitha, larus (traditional item consisting of coconut and rice) and jolpan are prepared.

The first day of Rongali Bihu is called Goru Bihu or Cow Bihu, where cows are washed and worshiped. This is followed by Maanu (human) Bihu the next day, which is the actual New Year Day. It is when the people clean up, wear new attires and get ready with great vigor for the new year. Elders are shown respect with gifts and their blessings are sought. Relatives and friends are visited. Feasts are organized consisting of an array of traditional dishes and drinks, shared with family, relatives and friends. Husori is an interesting part of this day where villagers move through households singing carols based on Assamese festive music. The third day is called the Gosai (God) Bihu which is dedicated to the worship of Gods and cleaning the house as a sign of good fortune and for good things to come in. The remaining days, Hat BihuSenehi BihuMaiki Bihu, and Sera Bihu, each have their own significance in the celebrations.

Bihu dancer with a horn
Bihu dancer with a horn.

Songs, dances and performances are a very important part of any Bihu celebration. Though initially performances were held throughout the state, in recent times, dancers dance on an elevated stage set in an open area known as a Bihutoli. Performances may be of various types, such as Bihu dances, theatre, concerts by local singers and standup comedy entertaining the audience well into the night, till the early hours before dawn. Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the festival is the Mukoli Bihu dance, where young unmarried men and women wear traditional golden muga silk attires and dance and sing Bihu songs to celebrate female sexuality. The songs generally have themes of romance and love, with an underlying tragic story which is treated lightly by the audience.

For tourists, this time of the year is a great opportunity to see the simple yet elegant culture of Assam. To be part of the local celebration, witness extraordinary happiness, feasts, dances, music and hospitality.

Explore Assam’s rich culture and the ambient lifestyle of it’s fertile countryside with our Tour of Rural Assam at Majuli Island.

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