What is the Assamese Harvest Festival of Bohag Bihu?
- Author: Priyanka Published: 14th April, 2021
Bohag Bihu is the Assamese harvest festival, marking the initiation of the incoming new year as well as this year’s spring season. This year, it will be celebrated between 14-20th April. The festival goes on for 7 days, dedicated to different parts of nature that the Assamese farming community as a whole is thankful for. They perform the traditional dance of Bihu and prepare festive dishes like Pitha and Laarus to celebrate the days.
The Phases of Bohag Bihu-
The first phase of Bohag Bihu starts with the performance of a ritual in an open field or under an ancient tree. It mostly involves the women of the community wherein they gather around a bonfire and perform rituals, whereas the men involved are only there for ceremonial purposes: to play the Pepa (a hornpipe) or the Bholuka Baanhor Toka ( a bamboo instrument ).
Celebratory dances are organised by the young in the community on the second day of the Sot month. These daily entertainment activities will usually go on until Uruka ( beginning of the Rongali Bihu).
A fairly important event, this phase focuses on thanking the agricultural roots of the state and the livestock that allows them to still practice the ancient way of living. During this time, upkeep and maintaining of the cattle are done with herbs like turmeric and black gram paste, ground dighloti, tonglati, lau and brinjal. After giving the cattle a bath, harvest related games are organised and played. In the evening, the cattle are taken back to their respective ranches and fed Pitha ( a traditional Assamese dish).
This phase focuses on the spirits of the deceased. People pray to the ancestral spirits from their community and also give offerings to the elders while asking for their blessings. They are also presented with the Gamusa cloth: a kind of traditional cloth known for its intricate handcrafting techniques that are embedded with the concept of hospitality, love and warmth.
On this particular day, people tend to spend their time with family and close friends. People from a particular family would mutually decide to have lunch at one person’s place with a little storytelling and some quality time.
Mela here refers to a ‘fair’. And as the name goes, this day is celebrated with competitions and other outdoor activities coupled with a fair. It is held every year to instil a sense of brotherhood among the Assamese people and let everyone know that they’re included and together form part of the greater community.
This is when the celebrations are wrapped up and people start thinking of the future, looking forward to a pleasant year and a good harvest again. Families exchange Pithas on this day to initiate the end of the festivities.
If you’re in Assam during Bohag Bihu this year, don’t forget to take part in the festivities. They’re traditional and very unique from the harvest festivals of the rest of the country.