Assam, known as the land of blue hills and red river, is also a land of many feasts and festivals, which are marked by music, dance, mirth, gaiety, community sharing, and spiritual colouring. Among these, Bihu is the most impressive and prominent. Bihu is the chief festival of the people of Assam celebrated by everyone irrespective of caste, creed, and race. Assamese celebrate three types of Bihus in a year- Rongaali Bihu or Bohaag Bihu, Kati Bihu or Kongaali Bihu and Magh Bihu or Bhogaali Bihu.
The word ‘Bihu’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Vishu’. The Bihus are closely associated with the farmer’s life, which characterises ancient rural Assamese life. It marks three distinct phases in the cultivation of paddy-the native crop of Assam. Bohaag Bihu marks the advent of planting time, the Kati Bihu is celebrated at the completion of sowing season while Magh Bihu symbolises the culmination of harvesting period.
Rongaali Bihu is the most important Bihu among the three Bihus. It is celebrated in the month of Bohaag, the first month of the Assamese calendar. Thus, the festival marks the advent of Assamese New year. Hence, it is characterized by lots of merriment, gaiety, songs and dance. The festival coincides with the arrival of spring season in the state providing greater reason for merriment. The nature is in its finest form fully adorned with blossoms and flowers. Therefore, this Bihu is known as Rongaali Bihu or the festival of merriment (‘Rong’ means joy in Assamese).
Bohaag Bihu is celebrated over a period of seven days. The festival begins with what is known as ‘Goru Bihu’ which refers to the practice of ritual bath of the cows and bulls. The second day of the Bihu is the most important day. It is celebrated as Assamese New Year’s day. People welcome the day with songs and dance. People young and old put on new clothes. Friends, dear and near ones are invited for sharing cakes, pithas and sweets.
Elders are presented with ‘Gamosa’ (a traditional Assamese hand-woven cotton towel) Young boys and girls attired in their traditional costumes, go from house to house singing Bihu songs called ‘Husori’ with the accompaniment of several musical instruments. Now-a-days the traditional celebrations are found only in rural areas while Bihu celebrations in cities and towns are characterised by community functions and entertainments.
Kati Bihu is observed on the last day of the month of Ahin. It is a one-day festival which is characterised by the lighting of earthen lamps near the Tulsi plants and in the paddy fields invoking nature’s blessings for the success of the crop. There is no feasting or rejoicing unlike the other
two Bihus. Hence, this Bihu is known as Kongaali Bihu or the festival of the “poor” (‘Kongaali’ means poverty or dearth in Assamese).
M agh Bihu or Bhogaali Bihu is celebrated in January, immediately after the harvest. After the harvest season is over, a community function is held in a temporary house known as Bhela ghar or Meji Ghar which is erected in the harvest field itself with bamboos and paddy-stubble. A grand community feast is held in the evening. Young people enjoy feasting, singing and dancing throughout the whole night.
Next day, people take holy bath just before dawn and burn the Meji Ghar and worship the God of fire. “Women of every household prepare traditional sweets and cakes which are shared with friends, neighbours and relatives. Thus, Magh Bihu is a festival of feasting. Hence, this Bihu is known as Bhogaali Bihu or the festival of Food (Bhogaali means “feasting” in Assamese)
Bihu festivals are an integral part of Assamese life and culture. Bihu geet or Bihu songs constitute an important part of Assam’s rich heritage and literature. The uniqueness of Bihu celebrations is that they are celebrated by everyone in Assam irrespective of caste, creed, or race. The festivals are true community festivals and promote a sprit of love, brotherhood and sense of oneness among the people. It is therefore, the duty of every Assamese to preserve these national festivals in their original form and grandeur.