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The Magh Bihu Festival of Assam

Magh Bihu Bhogali

Festivals characterize the unity and solidarity of the various communities of people. There are a multitude of celebrations that bring its inhabitants together in a mixture of colors reflecting the spirit, values and unique culture of Assam. The most important festival is divided into three Bihus. Closely connected to the agricultural world, these celebrations have no religious significance.

The inhabitants gather together whatever their caste, creed or origin. The word Bihu comes from the language spoken by the Dimasa and Kachari community. Three bihus are celebrated each year in January, April and October in correlation with an agricultural phase.

Bohag or Rongali Bihu in mid ­April is the most important and colorful of the three Bihus. It is called New Year of Assam and marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of the agricultural season. The farmers prepare their fields, the cows are washed with turmeric.

They are given fresh fodder and their ropes are changed. During the week, the inhabitants exchange traditional scarves (gamochas), sing and dance to the rhythm of drums (dhol) and buffalo horns (pepa). The songs speak of love and fertility. The men clothe their finest dhoti and gamocha and women their traditional set of Mekhela Chador.

Magh Bihu in mid January marks the end of the winter solstice with buffalo fights and other entertainment. It is also called Bhogali Bihu or food festival. The night before Magh Bihu Festival is called Uruka and is characterized by loads of partying and community festivities. On the eve of the festival, the inhabitants build mejis (small shelters of bamboo and straw) in their fields also called bhelaghar, which are built by the community as a whole in which the meals are prepared and gather around a fire and the festivities continue around the fires and the meals.

Different types of cords are tied around fruit trees. Traditionally, the fuel is stolen from the final ceremony, when all the bhelaghar is burned. Their remains are placed in the fruit trees. Special pujas are offered as a prayer for a good harvest. Since the festival is held in the middle of winter, the food prepared for this festival is to keep the body warm and give high energy. From Laddu to jagger they are made for the festival of the specialty.

Families and friends come together to prepare and taste a hearty meal of roasted duck, potatoes, stuffing and pan-seared winter vegetables. These celebrations are an opportunity to celebrate with pithas made of rice and pay tribute to the family and the community. The moon, divinities and ancestors are invoked for the blessing of the crops. The festival is usually celebrated with traditional dances and communion around a feast, during which all people give thanks for abundance.

The next day, they ceremoniously burn the meiji and dispose its ashes in the fields and around the fruit trees because the latter are supposed to improve the fertility of the soil. Then the inhabitants celebrate and launch sporting challenges.

Kati Bihu in mid­ October compared with the other two bihus is celebrated far more soberly. It is also called Kongali Bihu or Festival of the Poor. People gather and light small oil lamps in fields and gardens. Lamps on top of long bamboos guide the souls of the deceased to paradise.

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