Majuli Cultural Landscape Management Authority
...Promoting and preserving the rich heritage of Majuli

CULTURE - FESTIVALS CELEBRATED IN THE RIVER ISLAND OF MAJULI

BOHAG BIHU

Bihu Dance

Bihu is the national festival of Assam. There are three Bihus in Assam held in three different times of the year, perhaps fixed according to the urge of early human habit in a particular topographical context. They are Bohag Bihu, Kati Bihu and Magh Bihu. The first is observed in the middle of April, the second at the close of the Hindu month of Asvin or Ashin and beginning of Kartik or Kati (middle of October), while the third is observed at the close of the Hindu month of Pausha or Puh and beginning of Magh (middle of January). Of the three Bihus, the Bohag Bihu also called Rangali Bihu is the most popular and widespread over all sections of the people irrespective of caste and religion having a secular character.

The popularity of this festival among the various communities and its composite character with the folk and spiritual elements of the society.

The Bohag Bihu is marked by bathing and feeding of the cows, reading of the verses from the religious scriptures reflecting the activities of Lord Krishna, use of Khol and organization of the smaran-kirtan. There is an organization of the congregation prayer at the village namghar on sankranti day (first day of the Bihu).

This is celebrated for three to seven days commencing on the last day of the Chaitra month of the Indian calendar. On this day, leaves and vegetables are fed to the domestic animals like cow etc. in belief of their well being. Then the animals are washed with turmeric and mati mah (pulse) as they are considered to be antibiotics. The cowshed is besmeared with thick smoke created by burning a heap of husks, grass and a special kind of herb called makhiyati, believed to burn the mosquitoes and other insects, and thereby contribute towards the good health and breeding of the animals. This whole procedure is actually geared towards preparing the animals for the forthcoming cropping season (Xali paddy). The second day of the celebration is the first day of a new year. It is celebrated by performing the Bihu dance wearing clothes of Muga silk and playing Dhol and playing of bamboo instruments like gagana, taka and buffalo-horn called pepa. The dance signifies new life and hope and was originally performed in the fields to symbolize the fertile and productive nature of the earth and the accompanying songs reflected different facets of life. Bihu teams consisting of young and male members of the village go from house to house, singing huchari kirtan (a kind of congregation singing /chorus), and performing the Bihu dance. They bless the householder and collect whatever amount of dakshina (contribution) he could offer to the team. It is customary that the dakshina should include a piece of gamocha (an Assamese towel) since a symbol of gifting of a piece of cloth (bastra dan) is considered of great religious merit.17 It is customary to eat rare varieties of pot herbs (xak in Assamese) during the celebration of Rongali Bihu. Different varieties of pancakes and confectionaries made out of coconut, sesame seeds, jaggery, rice powder, sticky rice, and milk products are prepared in a traditional way. Amongst some ethnic communities, brewing of rice beer and preparation of pork and chicken is a must.