Bihu is the main cultural festival of Asom.The Assamese celebrate three types of Bihu in a year – Rongali Bihu or ‘Bohaag Bihu’, Kati Bihu or Kongaali Bihu and the last, but not the least, Magh Bihu or Bhogaali Bihu’. Like most other Indian festivals, Bihu (all three) is associated with farming; as the traditional Assamese society is predominantly dependent on agriculture. In fact, similar festivals are also celebrated around the same time elsewhere in India.
The word ‘Bihu” is said to be derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Vishu’. The dance performed during bihu is known as the bihu dance and the songs are known as bihu songs.
Rongali Bihu or Bohag Bihu: The most important Bihu of all the three, it’s celebrated in the month of Bohaag or Baishakh (middle of April), the first month of the Assamese calendar and thus, marks the advent of the Assamese New Year. This Bihu is also known as Rongaali (‘Rong’ denoting joy in Assamese) Bihu, due to the merriment that predominates the celebrations. This festival also coincides with the advent of the spring season in the state.
Bohaag Bihu is celebrated over a period of seven days. The first day of the Bihu is known as ‘Goru Bihu’ on which the cows and bulls are given a ritual bath with ‘halodhi’ and ‘maah’ with the accompanying song “Lao Kha, Bengena Kha, Bochore Bochore Badhi Ja”. On this day, the bond of love and care for the animals is depicted by the farmers of Assam.
The second day is known as the Manuh bihu. On this day, elders are shown respect, with gifts of bihuwan (a gamosa), a hachoti (kerchief), a cheleng etc., and their blessings are sought. Children are given new clothes, and Husori singing begins and people visit their relatives and friends.
Kati bihu or Kongali bihu: It is the quietest Bihu of the three without any celebrations unlike the other two. Held in the beginning of the Kati maah(7th month of the Assamese calendar or middle of October), the Bihu marks silent prayers in the form of lighting of earthen lamps in the paddy fields and also near Tulsi plants for the bountiful harvest. This Bihu is also associated with the lighting of akaxi gonga or akaxbonti, lamps at the tip of a tall bamboo pole, to show to the souls of the dead the way to Heaven, a practice that is common to many communities in Asia and Europe.
Magh bihu or Bhogali bihu: This bihu is celebrated in the middle of January, immediately after the traditional paddy crops are harvested. An overnight community function is held in temporary thatched houses (made with thatch and dry plantation leaves/ trunk known as Bhela Ghar or Meji Ghar) specially erected for the purpose mainly in the barren paddy fields from where the crop had already been harvested.
People spent the night of the community feast in the Bhela Ghar and the next morning, they take a bath and burn the main Meji. People gather around the burning Meji and throw Pithas (rice cakes) and betel nuts into it. They offer their prayers to the God of Fire and mark the end of the harvesting year. Thereafter they come back home carrying pieces of half burnt firewood to be strewn among fruit trees for favourable results. All the trees in the compound are tied to bamboo strips or paddy stems. Different types of sports like Buffalo-fights, Egg-fights, Cock-fights, Nightingale-fights, etc. are held throughout the day.
Ali Aye Ligang
The meaning of Ali Aye Ligang stand for first sowing of roots and fruits in which ‘ALI’ stands for seeds, ‘AYE’ for Fruits and ‘LIGANG’ for sowing. It suggests the beginning of agricultural cultivation. Prayer, dance and feast are integral parts of the festival. Every year, from the first Wednesday of the month Fagun (February), this festival is celebrated, as this day is regarded as the day of Goddess Lakhsmi. It is celebrated for a period of five days and everyday the youth dance the Gumrang dance to the tune of the Dhol, Gogona and the Pepa. A social feast is also organized which is called the Purang.
The most importatnt religious mela( or fair) celebrated in The Kamakhya Temple is known as the Ambubashi mela. The mela is celebrated during the moonsoon season, in the middle of the English month of June. It is believed to be the celebration of Goddess Kamakhya’s yearly menstruation cycle. During the mela, the goddess is worshiped in the form of a “yoni” like stone . This mela is also known as Ameti or Tantric fertility festival .Two forms of prasads are distributed-Angadhak and Angabastra. Every year lakhs of pilgrims, starting from Sadhus to householders from all over India, come to Guwahati to observe this festival.
During this festival, the maiden dances to the tune of the Murik-Pongsi, and the village priest chants the language of the hundred Gods to appease them for the welfare of the village and the villagers. This is the time of the year when the Karbis in the plain districts of Assam celebrate their national festival, “Rongker Dehal Kachirdom”.
Bare Sohoriya Bhaona
This unique Bhaona (Vaishnavite plays) performed in the Jamugurihat area of Sonitpur district, has been celebrated for more than two hundred years in Asom. During the festival, more than 20 Bhaonas are played within uniquely designed stages under the same roof. The festival offers an example of a rural community’s adherence to simple faith in God and a desire to retain the best of their cultural-religious tradition as also their keenness to accommodate the inevitable changes in the difficult days of globalization and cultural homogenization.
Celebrated with the Holi festival in March, the Doul Jatra or Deul or Doulotsav is an integral part of Assamese culture. Based in Barpeta district of western Assam, this festival depicts Lord Krishna’s visit to his consort Ghunusa with a massive procession. The statue of Lord Krishna in gold is carried on a rath (chariot) through the town, accompanied by thousands of people playing phaku gura (the colors), singing naam kirtan (religious songs) playing instruments like Khol, Dhol, Taal etc.
It is a festival of the people of the tea gardens of Asom and west Bengal. The believers of Hindu religion celebrate this on the last day of Chot (Chot Songkranti). They believe that the puja will bring prosperity to them and eliminate the sorrows and sufferings of the past. The festival is actually celebrated to satisfy “Lord Shiva”.
Held in every winter at Dayang Belguri, a historic place in Jonbeel, 5km away from Jagiroad, a small town near Guwahati, is transformed into a buzzing hub of activity in which various tribes and communities from across the North-east come together to organize a mela. The highlight of the mela is a bazaar, where goods are bartered, rather than sold. The mela also showcases the traditional dances and music of the communities represented. It also represents the harmony and brotherhood among different tribes.
A festival started in Jamugurihat of Sonitpur district in the old days. It so happened that once upon a time the area near the Jiyabhorali river was troubled by tigers. People used to come out in large numbers to drive away or kill the tigers thus creating a festive like atmosphere. As soon as a tiger is spotted, the news is spread through the local Naamghor (place of worship). People would, then come out with weapons like spears and nets to capture or kill it. If the tiger manages to escape from the net, the people responsible for making the net were punished socially. Presently, this festival is no longer celebrated, but the folklore still remains.
This sacred festival among the people of the Garo community is related to paying respects to the dead. According to their custom, the people who have died within a year are paid their last respects at the end of the year at an agreed date.
Another agri-based festival of the Garos is called the Rongasugala. As the paddy is ripe for harvesting, the Garo people go from door to door collecting the local brew called ‘Chu’. This brew, along with the chira, made from the harvested paddy, is then offered to their Gods and Goddesses
This festival is celebrated in the lower Assam particularly in Kamrup district to drive mosquitoes away. This festival is associated with some folk tunes sung by a group of male performers.
The Karbis of Assam celebrate this agricultural festival, which is held at the time of the beginning of the cultivation. They sacrifices goats and fowls for their deities named Aarnam Pharau & Thanarnams. The sacrificial meat is then eaten with rice and rice beer.
This festival is celebrated by Karbis at the end of the harvest. This festival may be equated with the worship of Hindu goddess Lakshmi. Along with dance and music this festival ends with a community feasts.
This festival is celebrated in the month of Jeth by the Rabhas. They worship Goddess Baikho. Animal sacrifices are there in this festival along with dance and community feasts.
The Tiwas of Assam observe Langkhun Puja in the last part of the Assamese month Kati or first part of the month Aghon. A form of Bamboo worship, this festival continues for four days.
In the month of Phagun, Tiwas celebrate this festival. The term Chagramichawa signifies a dance which is performed by all. Similar to the Bihu songs, the lover conveys his love to sweetheart through chagra songs.