Saturday, April 6, 2013

Colours of Bihu


Assam, the land of the red river and blue hills, with its picturesque landscape and exotic fauna is shrouded in myths and mystery. The unique landscape has an enchanting beauty with sprawling tea gardens and unending stretches of paddy fields, interspersed with coconut groves, betel nut plantations and banana orchards. With the ushering of the spring season, the breath-taking hills and valleys come alive with the sounds of the month long Rongali Bihu. Rongali Bihu or Bohag Bihu is the most important festival of this land and marks the beginning of the New Year beginning with the month 'Bohag' and hence the name Bohag Bihu.

The word 'Rongali' originates from the word 'Rong' meaning colours and signifies happiness and un-bound celebrations and is expressed through dances, songs and other festivities. It's a time of merriment and feasting.
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Rongali Bihu is also a festival to mark the coming of age for young girls and fertility, with them dancing in brisk sensuous movements of hips, arms and the upper parts of the body swaying to the male counterparts playing the pepa (a flute made of buffalo horns) and the beat of the toka (drums) and gogona (made from bamboo held between the teeth) and small cymbals, in ecstatic rhythms. The young unmarried men and women, dance the night away under the gentle breeze of banyan trees in open fields, or groves, or even in jungles.


They also sing spontaneously created couplets expressing love for their sweethearts. Starting with a slow tempo, the rhythm builds up to a crescendo. The bihu geets as they are called, are tuned to rhythmic beats to which the bihutolis dance. Traditionally the occasion also has been a mating ritual by young women and their male counterparts. The fair maidens of the land drape themselves in gorgeous floral silk mekhala with a red border, a shawl woven out of the golden silk fibres, and a red blouse and ornate gumkharu in their hands made from an alloy of silver and gold nuggets found in the rivers.. Kapou flowers (orchids) adorn their hairs adding a whimsical touch to the formality of the outfit. Their feet and palms are painted with the red pigments made of myrtie leaves.



The young men wear traditional clothes like dhoti and kurta and tie the gamocha(a traditional Assamese hand-woven cotton towel with red designs with a white background) around their heads and waists along with the Japi, a traditional Bamboo hat with colorful designs. Bohag Bihu also involves various delicious Assamese recipes. Every house cooks various pitha (made from rice and coconut), laddoo (made from shredded coconut) and til laddoo (made from sesame seed) and other delicacies which gives the real essence of the season.

The elders also celebrate this festival in the form of Husori Bihu where they move from house to house singing carols, in the style of bihu geets. They are traditionally welcomed into the courtyards and thanked after the singing with an offering of pan (betal leaf), tambul (areca-nut), sweets and money in a sarai (brass dish) as dakshina (offering) after which the singers bless the household for the coming year. The funds collected are spent for repairing the Namghars (community prayer hall) and for community feasting. Husori Bihu is traditionally an all-male celebration and the women celebrate it through Jeng Bihu in which the song and dance performances are watched only by women.

Rongali Bihu comes with the first showers of the season, the sweet call of the cuckoo, the hanging blooms of purple kapou flower adorning the trees, the bhebel creepers in full bloom creating an enchanting kaleidoscope of colours, and the fragrant breeze transforming the atmosphere into a heavenly paradise.



Bhogali Bihu is celebrated in mid of January, on the first day of 'Magh' month of Assamese Calendar. 'Bhogali' means handiness of rich food. Women grind 'pitha guri' with a 'dheki' and prepare delicacies ahead of Magh Bihu or Maghar Domahi. The festival involves a lot of feasting with doi (curds), chira (dry rice), fish like Aari, Rohu, Borali and Bhokua, Chital, meat, etc.and sporting with a traditional buffalo fight. The celebrations of Bhogali bihu starts one day before the actual day, on the last day of the month 'Puh'. On this eve, people build 'Meji', a structure made of stacked wood.The entire night (Uruka) is spent around the Meji with people singing bihu songs, beating 'Dhol', a typical kind of drums or playing games.


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