A lifeline for the Assamese


Kamal Baruah
Bihu basically celebrates the change of seasons and signifies an important phase in the farming calendar of Assam… While leaving my village recently, as I drove near my primary school I saw the play ground. That took me to the good old days when we used to loiter around. We decided to run behind the muffle distorted noise over the loudspeaker soon after hearing the first announcement was made. Yes, our Rongali Bihu arrived. We reached the Bihu pandal as fast as possible before other boys arrived. When April comes, my memories of yesteryears still run fresh. We saw Bihu transition from the paddy field to today’s stage Bihu. Whenever I go across my village, the sights were still reminiscent of my childhood and Bihu songs are powerfully evocative lyrics of villagers of Assam. The colossal figure, Dr Bhupen Hazarika sang one of its timeless tune –”Bohag mathu eti  ritu nohoi, nohoi Bohag ethi mah, Asomiya jatir”. Hazarika described Bohag (spring festival Bohag Bihu), as not only a season or a month but eternal the source of courage, inspiration and lifeline for the Assamese people to win over the darkness of evil.   Bohag Bihu is a sowing festival that is associated with agriculture. Assam is a fertile land; the occupation of the people here is mostly agriculture. Bihu basically celebrates the change of seasons and signifies an important phase in the farming calendar of Assam. Kharif crops (rice) are mostly grown in rain-fed conditions and from the onset of rain the Bihu begins. The origin of this festival might have started a couple of century ago. The term “Bihu” originated from a Sanskrit word “Bishu”, which means prosperity during the harvesting season. The festival falls on Sankranti as per lunisolar calendar (Buddhist calendar) in which the months are based on lunar months and years are based on solar years. ‘Sankranti’ means transmigration of the Sun from one Rashi to the next. There are 12 Sankrantis in a year. When Sun moves from Pisces to Aries, the New Year arrives. Coincidently, the Buddhist festival of New Year “Thingyan” is celebrated in Myanmar in the middle of April. It is also related to New Year of Cambodia, Lao, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Orissa and Tamil Nadu. The diverse group of people from Assam are physically formed after centuries of assimilation of Austro-Asiatic, Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman and Tai populations. The term Assamese came later during Ahom kingdom. Assam goes with Muga silk (golden silk) and traditional Gamosa and it welcomes spring with dancing to the rhythm of Rongali Bihu tunes and beatings of Bihu Dhol across hills and vales. Assam being a land of amazing diversity, its ethnic tribes like Bodos, Mising, Deuri, Ahom, Chutia, Kachari, Koch, Kaivarta celebrate new Assamese calendar year on 14th April. Though the celebration varies, quintessentially it remains Bihu as the messenger of peace, brotherhood and joy. Rural folks wish their cattle a long life by taking to rivers for a special bath. Bihuwan to one’s near and dear is the most significance tradition for Assamese society that is woven on handlooms. Father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi once said, Assamese women weave dreams on their looms. There is no such other festival as Bihu does. The songs and dances are truly indigenous that reflected passion in the heart of Assamese society. The melody of Pepa from Buffalo Horn is beyond imagination. Bihu as a means of entertainment through music and dance had began in the era fifties. Since then they began to be organized on a larger scale as we see today in stage Bihu. In the old days, Bihu was celebrated on the banks of rivers and cultivation fields. Later it was brought to the Ranghar premises as a pride of Assam by the royal patronage of Ahom king Rudra Singha in 1694. But here again the question arises, are we celebrating with much popularity or there is something amiss at Bihu. All our festivals are linked with agriculture. Without it, there is always a miss factor. The Kopou – the orchid is an integral part of a Bihu. And so the Kuli (Cuckoo) sings of spring that makes leaves sprout in the season. Truly nature bestows her blessings on everybody. Now it has been a common belief among young generation that Rongali Bihu is performed only on a stage. It has now been challenging to our own Bihu. However, the changes of the cultural renaissance are not just coming in a day; it is being experienced across the north east region. Globalisation has a big role in transformation to our culture. What we don’t do is introspect much about the changes. It is no longer an indispensable part of the Bihu. People throng markets for shopping nowadays. What we don’t do is introspect much about the changes. The usurping of westernization might decay our traditions in years to come. Teenagers are to be adapted by cultural ethos and moral values of our cherished past. Those were memorable experience of ours when we forgot any stress but found total happiness. Bihu folks remain at the height of its popularity despite age and urbanisation. This blissful festival will continue in the heart of Assamese and indeed a lifeline for its people.
The writer is a former Air Warrior and currently working for SBI Dispur. He can be reached at kamal.baruah@yahoo.com

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