Saturday, April 17, 2010


We can hardly think of Bohaag Bihu without remembering the Bihugeet. In fact, the festival of Bihu, particularly Rongali Bihu is incomplete without the rendition of the bihugeet to the accompaniment of the reverberating dhol(drum) , the throbbing gogona, the rhythm of the toka, and the melody of the baahi(flute) and the mohor xingor pepa (instrument made out of buffalo horn); and the eternal Bihu dance matching steps.

And yet, the bihuget has undergone its own journey since the beginnings of time, evolving through the ages.It traces its origins to the distant past when, primitive man, leaving behind his nomadic life, began living in settlements. Probably at such a time during his spare hours or even while engrossed in his daily activities man’s creativity had sprouted –pouring forth impromptu tunes and verses. These melodious notes were derived from nature; and so were the verses –(which were) impressions and inspirations of nature’s myriad forms. Thus nature is central to the bihugeet.

Almost all festivals the world over have economic victory as their major driving force. And Bihu too is no exception. Even the Vedic yagya had as its primary objective prayers for increase of production. Since societies were essentially agrarian increase in production implied (the need for ) increase in the fertility of the soil. For this purpose in the ancient times different societies performed different rituals songs and dances, songs which had overtly erotic sentiments. It was believed that such songs and dances would stimulate Mother Earth and heighten her productivity. Thus love, passion, the sensual urge have found expression in the bihugeet. However, there is much more to the bihugeet than these. The bihugeet is the living reservoir of the Assamese culture. It is man’s intense desire for life. It is the succour for the (city-going) multitudes distanced from the joy and sweat of work in the fields. The melody of the Bihugeet revives life just as the season of Spring(Bohaag) rejuvenates barren nature. The bihugeet in true ,earthy colours give expression to the hopes, aspirations joys, sorrows, emotions and experiences of the people. However, for a long time, and for diverse reasons many people particularly the so-called educated class and /or the middle class had strong reservations about these (Bihu) songs and dances. There were people who would even term it obscene. However, with time and with its simplicity and grandeur, the Bihugeet has won over its obstacles, establishing itself as an art form , as the song of life. As somebody has rightly said whatever is not in the bihugeet is not to be found in Assamese social life.

At the same time in its long journey down the meshes of time the bihugeet has added different elements repertoire. Under the influence of the Neo-Vaishnavite movement under Sri Sri Sankardeva and Sri Sri Madhavdeva, words like ‘Ram’, ‘Krishna’, ‘Gobinda’, ‘Gobindaai-Ram’ were incorpoprated into the bihugeet. For instance—

“Joidoul Xivadoul Oi Ram, Ranghar Karenghar Oi Ram

Axomor Bijoy Kiriti Hari Gopaalo Gobindo Ram”

During the Ahom reign, the bihugeet, underwent many additions. In the eighteenth century during the reign of Swargadeo Rudrasingha the festival of Bihu earned royal patronage. Bihu songs and dances came to be performed by villagers before the Swargadeo(king) at Ranghar Baakori besides at the households of other important ministers and the Ahom nobility. For instance—

“Swargadeo Olale, Batsorar Mukholoi

Duliyai Paatile Dola

Kaanote Jilikil Nora Jangfai

Gaate Gomsengor Solaa”

[The Swargadeo appears at the gateway/The palanquin bearer readies his palanquin(dola)/Nora Jangfai(traditional jewellery) glitters on his(the Swargadeo’s) earlobes/As he dons himself in the finest robes]

Again, commemorating the Swargadeo’s hunting trips(for they were expert hunters), somebody had sung-

“Swargadeo Goisil Pohu Mariboloi

Sungote Godhuli Hol,

Kunworiye Xudhile Kom Kiye Buli

Jaal Faali Horina Gol”

[The Swargadeo had been to hunt deer, and it got late in the evening, what do I answer the Kunwori(queen) when she asks about the hunt, the deer ran away tearing the trap]

The bravery of the Ahom general Lachit Borphukan in a historical event like the famous battle at Saraighat (where an ailing Lachit led the Assamese army to victory over the Mughals) have been immortalized in such compositions as—

“Saraighatot Kandile Lachit Borphukane

Barhamputrai Xolaale Bhex,

Xonar Axomot Kinu Jui Laagise

Sokut Nai Tuponir Lex”

[Lachit creid at Saraighat , and the Brahmaputra changed its form/What fire swathes the Golden Axom, all sleep have deserted

during the British rule again, many significant changes came over the bihugeet. The Britishers set up tea gardens all over Assam. Consequently, somebody sang—

“Mohoriloi Jabagoi MOharani hobagoi

Sokit Bohi Khabagoi Bhat,

Bagaanor Cooliye Babuwoni Bulibo

Xiu hobo Omaator-maat.”

[If you get married to a mohori (clerk), you’ll live like a queen(maharani)/you’ll sit

on chairs and eat/the labourers(coolie) will call you babuwoni, even that will sound pleasing to the ear].

The British rule ushered in radical shifts/changes in the lifestyle of the Assamese people , and the above geet throws such a hint. Among others, one of the blessings(if we might use the term) of the British rule was the railways that improved transport and communication. That moment too was crystallized for posterity with a bihugeetlike—

“Ukiyai Ukiyai, Relgaari Solile

Dibrut Godhuli Hol;

Tomaak Anim Buli Bore Ghore Xajilu

Goru Bondha Gohali HOl”

[Screeching loudly, the train(relgaari) moved on/Dusk fell on Dibru/Dreaming of bringing you home, I built a bor ghar(the house in which the owner sleeps and valuable possessions are kept)/ that has now turned into a gohali(cowshed)]
We also learn about the different artifacts of our culture from our bihugeet. For instance, when we sing—

“Gogona Aaaroni Gogona Puroni

Gogona Kihere Baai

Dufaale Dusoti Maajote Esoti

Mugaxuta Logaaye Baai”

--we are teaching our future about the musical instrument gogona.

At the same time, the bihugeet cries out in protest against discriminations of caste that hinder the union of two lovers—

“Saut Saute Jopona Doete

Bindhile Aghoya Hule

Tomaar Mone Gole Muru Mone Gole

Ki Koribo Kalita Kule.”

Spring is not only the season of the young(the young at heart), it is also the season when passions are in a tumult. Bihugeet speak of the passion throbbing the bosom of lovers—

“Dhole bai dhuliyai khole bai khuliyai

Kar ghoror nasoniye nase

Osor sapi sapi nahiba nasoni

Tomar gat mohani ase.”

[the dhuliya plays the dhol the khuliya plays the khol/to which family does the dancer belong/do not draw near O fair dancer/you have charm in you] or else

“Haah hoi porimgoi tomare pukhurit
Paro hoi porimgoi saalot
Ghame hoi bagorim tumare xorirot
Makhi hoi suma dim gaalot”

[I shall be a swan and swim in your pond/I shall be a pigeon and perch on your roof/I shall ne a streak of sweat and roll down your body/I shall be a fly and kiss your cheeks]


“Sote goye goye bohaage paalehi

Phulile bhebeli lota

Koino koi thakote oroke nopore

Rongali bihure kotha.”

with the month of sot drawing to an end and the arrival of Bohaag, the bhebeli creeper is in full bloom, there will be no end, (even) if I go on talking of Bihu[and in this context, the Bihugeet. Therefore, with the belief that we shall meet again to continue our discussion on this beautiful art form, here’s wishing you all a colourful and melodious Rongali Bihu…

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Even as these words appear before you...thousands, if not lakhs of girls across the country are compromising with their lives as their careers are put on hold simply because their parents can afford to ‘support’ just one child and that fortunate one is inadvertently the son.....Fortunately (as we are wont to believe) things are changing for the better. Yet when viewed from a broader perspective, epithets like women’s empowerment or women’s emancipation seem more of illusion than reality. Female foeticide, sexual harassment, domestic abuse, emotional harassment (on women) are undeniable realities even today. A woman who wants to fight society has still very few supporters...often even the family (including mothers, aunts and grandmothers)—ones strongest support is more worried about the samaj-- the society than its daughter’s beliefs. As an aunt, wizened through ‘life’s experiences’, had once remarked, she and her husband would not have worried as much had their eldest child been a son.

Such statements on a public forum will not be palatable to the urban(e) reader. For (as she is bound to feel) haven’t things changed? Women are increasingly more visible outside their homes, at the workplaces. The Indian woman has reached up to outer space and scaled the Mt. Everest; she is walking hand-in-hand with man etcetera are clich├ęs that we often hear in feminist discourses and liberalist arguments. But scratch beneath the surface and the reality surfaces. This is the story of many villages and smaller towns across the expanse of the country. And India, despite rapid urbanization and an increasingly expanding concrete jungle--still lives in its villages and smaller towns. Often girls are heard to speak of the ‘liberty’ their parents have given them, but more often than not they themselves are not aware of the tentacles of (patriarchal) oppression that lurk underneath. A girl’s parents might never ask her specifically not to do certain things, wear certain kinds of dresses, and so on; but right from her earliest days, she is (un)consciously conditioned to believe that doing certain things or wearing a certain kind of dress, behaving in a certain kind of manner are improper and do not bespeak a girl of ‘respectable family’. With such ‘conditioning’ , a girl needs no other instructions. The epithet of being ‘traditional’, of being sanskari are oft tagged to such facets of a girl’s conduct. To add to this present-day entertainment and news channels too leave no stone unturned (in their mad scramble for TRPs) in presenting the woman as vulnerable.

Often, ‘Children’ are the biggest reasons (rather pretexts) for a woman . Feminists might rave and rant—but the average Narmada, Charulatha or Maloti of the small village or town -- who has no economic independence , not much education to back and least of all morale support—will continue drying her moist eyes with the edge of her pallu and let life go on. A woman’s sorrow need not only be the scars on her body. There are the innumerable scars in her mind that take much longer to heal. Every careless remark, every inconsideration leaves its mark in a woman’s consciousness. She might muffle her sob under the folds of a forced smile. But the fester remains.

Till the time w(o[m)e(n) ] do not release themselves from the straitjacket of the pater familias, and men and women alike do not broaden their frames of reference and recognize the “metamorphic nature of things”, the woman will only be moving in circles. Swanky malls and branded apparels cannot alter man’s mentality (here, by ‘men’ we imply all those women as well who are themselves pseudo-patriarchs i.e. who are themselves a cog each in the wheel of patriarchy). The change has to be(gin) from within.

The need of the times is change of mindset, a shift in perspective. William Shakespeare wrote in his sonnet number 65—

“Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,

But sad mortality o'er-sways their power,


When rocks impregnable are not so stout,

Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?”

Nothing is permanent in this universe. Everything is susceptible to change, including man and the circumstances around him. It is in the best interests of the woman that the changes be accepted by society—which again is an incomprehensible matrix that one dares not transcend. Stereotypes are to be shattered if society is to coherently move ahead. And when the coherence is missing, we have instances when irate men try to strip a woman naked in full view of the world.( Wearing ‘modern’(Western) dresses do not imply liberation alone. Nor do wearing traditional dresses indicate upholding of ones tradition.)

What is required presently is no elite panel or high brow discussion on all these matters but a percolation of the ideas (that will usher in) change to the grassroot level, to the deeper subconsciousness of men and women. Only then can the woman be thought of as ‘liberated’. Let she not seek comfort from compromise. Society and the nation will progress only when the ‘other half’ of the population is liberated in the true sense.

[pulished in 'Horizon'--The Assam Tribune]