As winter bids adieu, and spring rolls in –accosted by the melody of the cuckoo, the rainbow colours that nature donnes and the aromas that waft the air—life takes on an exciting turn. Bohaag Bihu or Rongali Bihu—that biggest and most colourful of Assamese festivals is celebrated in spring.Being the melting pot of Indo-Burmese, Mongoloid, Austro-Asiatic, Aryan, Dravidian strains of culture, in Assam Bohaag Bihu celebrations reflect the diversity yet the thread of unity that binds all communities in a single strand of harmony…
Underneath we present a brief discussion of the Bohag Bihu celebrations aminds different communities—
Famous for its myriad colours and merriment, 'Baishagu' is generally celebrated in mid-April, Baishagu is the most cherished festival of the Bodo tribe. This festival also marks the beginning of new year for this tribe.
The first day begins with worship of the cow. The next day synchronizes with the first day of the month of 'Bohag' of the Assamese almanac. The presiding deity Bathou is worshipped with offerings of chicken and zou (rice beer). The merriment begins with the young people of each household reverentially bowing down to their parents and elders, seeking their blessings. Bodo women dresed in their colourful dokhna, jwmgra and aronai (attire) perform the Bagurumba or Bardwisikhla dance. The traditional musical instruments played in accompaniment to this dance are kham/madal (drum), serja (a bowed instrument), Jotha (Manjari), Khawbang (Taal), tharkha (a piece of split bamboo), Gogona and Siphung (Flute) etc. It is also customary at the time of closure of the Baishagu festival to offer community prayers at a particular place called 'Garjasali'.
Ali-Ai-Ligang is the spring festival of the Mishing . It commences on the first Wednesday (Ligange lange) of the month of 'Ginmur Polo' (February-March). 'Ali' means root, seed; 'Ai' means fruit and 'Ligang' means to sow. As is apparent from the name, the ceremonial sowing of paddy starts on this day. young boys and girls performed their traditional bihu dance accompanied by the bihu songs that reflect youthful passion and joie-de-vivre.
"Aapong" or rice beer, pork and dried fish are essential for the feast. The Ali-ai-Ligang festival continues for five days ; during which certain taboos are strictly observed—for instance cutting of trees, fishing, ploughing, burning jungles etc.
This is the springtime festival of the Deori community of Assam, one of the four divisions of the Chutiyas, who are believed to have been members of the great Boro race. 'Bi' means extreme and 'Shu' means 'rejoicing'.
Bohaggiyo Bishu is also observed during mid-April at a stretch for seven days ; which is marked by merrymaking. Unlike other communities the Bishu does not always fall on the Sankranti Day. The Bishu must be preceded by a 'Than puja' and evidently it must start on a Wednesday. Once in every four years a white buffalo is sacrificed which is considered a substitute for the traditional human sacrifice. The Deodhani Nritya, dance is the most important and significant part of the festival. Huchori Hasoti, Hurai Mangoli are other dances associated with this festival.. The 'Deodhani' predicts the prosperity of the village through oracular exercises. The 'Huchori and 'Hurairangoli' , generally sung by the women folk reflect various aspects of a woman's life. 'Aabobo' are the religious songs. According to some people, 'Aabobo' also deal with the origin and culture of the Deoris.
Rajini Gabra & Harni Gabra
This is the annual festival of the Dimasa tribe. Essentially socio-religious in nature, it is generally observed before the initiation of a new cultivation. Rajini Gabra is celebrated during day time. The 'Kunang' or the village headman propitiates the family deity by closing the village gate on the worship date. On the same night 'Harni Gabra' is observed, in which the presiding deity is worshipped for the protection and welfare of the people.
Interestingly, if any outsider enters the village during this festival despite seeing the closed gate, the entire function is considered to be spoilt. The intruder(s) then have to bear the total cost for holding the festival anew.
Rongker and Chomangkan
Rongker and Chomangkan are the two most important festivals of the Karbi tribe.
Rongker is the springtime festival of merriment, celebrated at the beginning of the New Year, i.e. in April. To satisfy the different gods and goddesses for the well being of the entire village, the elderly male folk organise Rongker so that people can be free from diseases and natural calamities for the entire year. They also pray for a good harvest. The women are barred from participating in this festival.
On the other hand, the festival Chomangkan is dedicated to the dead. Primarily a death ceremony, there is no particular time for holding this funeral ceremony. It depends upon the convenience of the people.
There is another colourful tribe in Assam, known as Rabhas. Although the Rabha community does not have any national festival of their own, the different groups celebrate their own festivals. The 'Baikho' or the Springtime festival is celebrated to propitiate the goddess of wealth 'Baikho'. Sadly, the pomp and grandeur of the Baikho festival is almost passé.
Dosa Thoi! Long Nai
This is a very important religious dance performed at the 'Bathou Puja' or worshipping of God-Shiva. In this dance the priestess called Deodhani dances with a bowl of blood of a sacrificed fowl on her head. It is believed that while the Deodhani performs this dance in a trance, Lord Bathou (Shiva) snatches away the bowl and drinks the blood.
They say festivals are the external manifestations of the social behaviour of a people. Scholars have attempted to link ancient beliefs and primitive rituals with the modern festivals. A traditional festival is based on certain rituals ; these rituals which are in themselves enactment of certain myths are based on certain beliefs which aim to take in supernatural aid to ward off evil. Assam is a beautiful instance of an excellent cultural synthesis.
seven days is known by a different name. They are "Goru Bihu","Manuh Bihu",Gonkhai Bihu",Taatar Bihu","Nangalar Bihu","Gharchia Jivar Bihu",and "Chera Bihu" respectively.
(Published in Vivek Jagriti --Bohag Bihu issue April, 2009)