The word ‘Bihu’ doesn’t have a literal translation into English. Bihu is not just a word. It’s a feeling. Not just happiness, Bihu teaches every Assamese to celebrate sadness too. Primarily, there are three Bihus celebrated by the Assamese community—Rongali or Bohag Bihu (festival of happiness), Kongali or Kati Bihu (festival of scarcity) and Bhogali or Magh Bihu (festival of feasting). All these festivals marked certain special occasions in the lives of the farmers of Assam and were celebrated during their leisure periods in between farming seasons, and later became the identity of the people of this land and the community as a whole. Although the connection with nature is now shrinking gradually, these festivals steeped in local flavour are still an essential part of Assamese culture.
Rongali or Bohag Bihu
Rongali or Bohag Bihu is celebrated during the month of April, on the occasion of the Assamese New Year. New leaves appear on the trees, as the dry weather of February and March (Fagun and Choit) gradually gives way to a greener landscape. Flowers like Kapou, Nahor, Togor can be sighted in the gardens. This is the time when one can hear the rhythmic beats of the dhol being played from the corner of a village. Then someone sings loudly:
Haoiiiiii/ Kinu chot Mohiya
Bohath jaki marile oi
Gose bone solale oi pat
Kinu Asomiyar Bihuti Ahile
Ukiyai logale maat
During the month of Choita
Winds are blowing here and there
Even the trees change their leaves
There comes the Bihu for Assamese people
He recalls us
The History of Rongali Bihu
The sheer idea of celebrating Rongali Bihu is to express joy. The word Rongali suggests in itself the emotion of joyfulness. Besides, there are many interpretations around the idea of Bihu. Many say, the dance performed during Rongali Bihu was a platform for young boys and girls to express their love for each other. Hence most of the Bihu songs of the earlier period had the overtones of a love song. For this very reason, many upper caste people of Assam didn’t allow Bihu dance performances at their places. Gradually, over time, the songs became sober in nature.
There is no formal history behind the Rongali Bihu festival. The popular belief amongst the community is that 'Bihu is as old as the river Brahmaputra'. While studying the early songs and intricacies of the Bihu dance form one can infer that it came to this valley when people started tilling the earth for sustenance. The Bihu dance is the main component of the Bihu festival. Moreover, it can be said that the dance form was, in a way, instrumental in converting the month of Bohag into a festival of joy. Bonoriya geets were the early songs replete with references to the themes of love, desire and sadness. Sometimes, inappropriate content also made its way into these songs. The term ‘Bonoriya’ stands for ‘wilderness’, and, yes, it is an expression of a young heart’s longing for his lover. Bonoriya geet traces its origin to a time when cultivation was the only source of occupation for the people. Hence, when the youth were busy feeding their cattle in the forests, once the paddy fields became dry and grassless during Fagun and Choit (February-March), they started singing these songs in the presence of their friends, who went out into the wilderness to perform their duty as cowherds. Roaming the forests, away from human settlements and accompanied by only friends, the youth took the liberty of expressing their suppressed longings and desires through these songs. One example is below:
Tumar Bukukhoni/ Podumore Pahi
Sui chau sui chau kore
Your chest is like a budding lotus
Would like to have a touch
With the passage of time, the structure of the songs, body language and gestures of the accompanying dance have changed remarkably. Where once there were spontaneous body movements, gestures and songs, now there is structure, rhythm and synchronisation to it, which is why it has survived well into modern times. This, I think, is an intrinsic characteristic of folk performances. As Arnold Hauser in his book The Social History of Arts rightly opined, the changes in the folk performances are a ‘natural bias’.
Bihu under Ahom Patronage
The rule of the Ahom dynasty, Sreemanta Shankardeva’s neo-Vashnavite movement and the advent of British colonialism are three significant historical episodes against the backdrop of which one can study the variations of Bihu performances. Ahom kings in their 600 years of consolidated rule patronised Bihu dance with utmost fervour. During the first few days of the Bohag month, royal families used to enjoy Bihu performances in the courtyard of Rangghar ('the house of joy'). In such performances in front of the king and other officials, the songs were full of praises of the Swargadeu (the Ahom king), unlike the unrefined bonoriya geet which was not fit for such occasions. An example is given below:
Swargadeu Ulale/ Batchorar Mukholoi
Duliyai Patile Dula
Kanot jilikile/ Norar Jangefai oi
Gate gomechengor chola
The king is coming to the gate
Along with the carriers
The jangfai (an ornament) is glinting on his ear
A silk shirt on his body
Likewise, staged fights between animals and birds, as a form of entertainment during the days of Bihu, was thoroughly enjoyed by the Ahom kings at the Rangghar courtyard. This, in all probability, was when Bihu began to be celebrated as a full-fledged festival. However, it might also be considered to be a result of the cultural agenda of the Ahom kings in appropriating Bihu festival to an identity of the state or maybe inculcating popularity into a form of festival.
The Neo-Vaishnavite Movement and Bihu
The Neo-Vaishnavite movement in Assam started between the 15th and 16th century under the initiative of Sreemanta Shankardeva. The philosophy of his Ek Sarana Naam Dharma was ‘Ek deo/ Ek Seo/ Eko bine nai Keo/’ ('There is only one sole god in the universe'). More than a religious personality, he was a perfect improviser of performing arts. Based on the traditional artistic practice of the region, he improvised a theatre form called Ankiya Bhaona (one-act play). These plays were performed in a space called Namghor (prayer hall). In Ankiya Bhaona, mythological stories from different scriptures are dramatised and then performed by the local artists. The idea was not only to engage people in religious activities but to get them together on a platform. Thus the Sattriya dance form also emerged in a similar way. There was no direct intervention from Shankardeva’s side to the Bihu repertoire. But the changes that came into the society along with the movement influenced the performance as well. By that time the tradition of Husori had also begun and it was performed in the courtyard of every villager. Gradually, the elements of Bhakti or spiritual words also started finding a place in the content of the lyrics. ‘Pada’ and ‘Ghosha’ had been included in the opening of the Husori. This particular segment of the songs brought the touch of spirituality into the performance. For example:
Gobin Krishnai Ramo Naryana/ Hori ehe joy
Prothome pronamu barhma /rupi Sanatana/ Ehe joy.
The words Gobin, Krishna, Brahma, Sanatana are to address the god
It can be observed here that the very tradition of obtaining blessings from a Husori group by the family members at the end of the Husori performance started around this time. Mention may be made here that at the end of the Husori all the performers sat down on the floor to receive the contribution from the house owner (where they were performing), blessing the family members of the house owner in return. This practice may have had a direct connection to the philosophy of Shankardeva, as the same pattern was followed in the prayer sessions by the Vaishnava disciple.
Colonialism and Bihu
Colonialism brought the ultimate change to the social life of Assam. Change in information, communication and technology had changed the whole picture of the region. The railway, telephone, oil, coal and tea industry were introduced to the people of the valley. These changes are captured in the Bihu songs that were sung during that period.
Ukiyai Ukiyai Jaan oi
Railgari ahile Jaan oi
Diborut Godhuli hol
The train has arrived with a scream o my dear
But it was dusk by then
Most importantly, the farmer class provided the manpower for industrial labour. Gradually the connection with agriculture started shrinking and a capitalist consciousness started growing around it. Historically, the British got the opportunity to enter Assam as a result of the Treaty of Yandabo signed between the British and Burma. Before that the geographical unit of Assam consisted of two states—Ahom State (Upper Assam from Kaliyabor of Nagoan district to Sadiya of Tinsukia district) and the Koch State (Lower Assam from present Tezpur district to Koch Bihar of West Bengal). But under British rule the two states were integrated and cultural exchange began. Thus the popularity of Bihu also spread to areas of lower Assam. Although there are debates around the whole issue, with many people belonging to the Lower Assam region claiming that they can’t connect to the Bihu dance in particular. Hence, the projection of Bihu dance as a cultural identity of Assam may not be fully appropriate.
Rapid Changes of the 20th Century
In the 20th century Bihu underwent many sub-versions. The significant events of change can be identified as the beginning of stage Bihu, Bihu songs being popular through radio, cassette culture, VCD, etc. All these factors were instrumental in converting Bihu into a market commodity in many senses. Stage Bihu organisers started giving out prizes of huge amounts of money along with titles like ‘Bihu Rani’ (Queen of Bihu) or ‘Bihu Kunwori’ (The princess of Bihu). Bihu singers like Khagen Mahanta became popular through the radio. The cassette culture of Bihu songs started introducing and recognising many new artists. All together the agricultural performance became a professional space for many.
Most importantly, the culture of Bihu-centric films in Video Compact Disc (VCD Film) is of the recent past. This brought a major change to the movement and repertoire of the dance form. Earlier the dance was performed on an open stage or in somebody’s courtyard, now it shifted in the front of the camera. The autonomy of camera and choreographer had replaced the autonomy of a performer. Thus the performer started performing for the camera, which in turn gave rise to a profit-oriented corporate industry within a short span of time. Singers, musicians, dancers, actors, directors got an opportunity to earn through this industry. Popular singers and composers of today’s generation like Zubeen Garg, Manash Robin, Krishnamoni Chutia, Mausom Gogoi, Bhitalee Das, Khagen Gogoi, Bipul Chatia Phukon are some of the names that found recognition during this phase. Interestingly, VCD became a medium for that generation to learn the dance form, mainly in the urban areas. On the other hand it also served as an alternative to cinema, as the Assamese film industry had dried up by then. By the end of the decade, with the emergence of Assamese electronic media and the Internet, the culture of VCD had vanished.
Assamese private electronic media came to the scene at a time when people had no access to any other mode of entertainment. Although in the initial days of the journey electronic media focussed on the ‘news’ but they also picked up popular cultural elements associated with the people of Assam. Thus Bihu (not only the dance form but the festival as a whole) became a major part of it. Electronic media started broadcasting special programmes on Bohag Bihu, Bhogali Bihu and Kati Bihu. Although the Bihu dance form was originally a unique feature of the Bohag Bihu celebrations, later, in media broadcast, Bihu dance was also being shown as a part of Bhugali and Kati Bihu celebrations. The distinct characteristic of the three Bihus had gradually been generalised. Reality shows started around the Bihu dance, offering huge amount of money as prizes. It can be said here that a total glamour industry had grown up around it. Corporate companies and industries also started investing money in stage and television Bihu shows. Corporate marketing strategies came up with ‘Bihu offers’ on Bihu festival days. Moreover, photos of Bihu performers began to be used for marketing and tourism campaigns.
Again, with the advent of YouTube, Bihu songs gained a new platform for exposition, with the internet-savvy 20th-century youth experimenting with the easily accessible modern video equipment. While many of these videos touched the idea of Bihu, they are still as much as a shadow of the original art form. Surprisingly, of late, the popularity of the modern-day versions of the Bihu songs, no longer true to the sentiments of Assamese culture, are gradually on the rise. For many thinkers and intellectuals this is an alarming phenomenon. While singers like Angarag Mahanta (popularly known as Papon) are successful in this trend, his works reflecting a study of the culture and music of the region, many of the creative youth are blindly following this path of experimentation without a definite study and knowledge about the subject matter. However, it is a matter of time, before people realise the true worth of conserving and restoring the original art form.
Rituals and Food
Apart from singing and dancing, Rongali Bihu involves a variety of other rituals as well. Since it is the festival associated with the agrarian way of life in Assam, cattle, again, influence a major part of the Rongali Bihu rituals. Usually the last day of the month of Choit or the last day of the old year is dedicated to the cattle, remembered as ‘Goru Bihu’. The cattle are bathed with fresh water at the riverside or at the empty paddy fields where the fresh water of that month is stored. Before the bathing starts, people offer the cattle a paste of black gram and turmeric. This is believed to be best for protecting their skin. After the session of bathing, the cattle are left free. But before this the owners or family members take a bamboo stick called Chak to which vegetables like brinjal, bitter gourd and bottle gourd are tied together and slowly hit the cattle to the rhythm of a song. The song goes as follows:
Lau kha/ Bengena Kha
Bosore Bosore / Barhi Ja
Mare hour/ Bapere Horu
Toi hobi bor goru
Have gourd/have brinjal
grow year by year
Your parents were small
But you will be a huge cow
Thus the morning rituals of the last day of the month of Choit begins with the domestic animals, primarily the cattle. Once it is done, it is then time for the people to take a bath in the river or pond with the remaining paste of turmeric and black gram (matimah). This is followed by the consumption of various kinds of pitha and jolapan (snacks). Pithas are several types: such as khulat diya pitha (til pitha or narikolor pitha), dhup pitha (made of jaggery), tel diya pitha (fried with mustard oil), while the snacks are kumor chaul (staple rice), chira, bhoja chaul, sandoh guri, etc. These snacks are made out of rice flour or the rice boiled or fried with unique traditional patterns. These snacks can be taken with curd and jaggery.
At the end of the day; when the cattle return home, they are welcomed with a new traditional rope called ‘Tora pogha’. This is similar to offering a new cloth to the cattle. At the night they are also treated with pithas of different kinds. While, traditionally, the family members enjoy vegetable dishes cooked with hundred wild vegetables that grow in their kitchen garden.
The first week of the month of Bohag is full of celebration. From the first days, Husori (Bihu dance performance groups) start visiting the villages. Villagers seeks blessing from the Husori, with the belief that it is good for the welfare of the family members and agricultural production. Guests and relatives visiting during the days of Bohag Bihu are offered with traditional pithas and snacks, and Bihuwan (gamocha or traditional towels). This continues generally for the first week of the Assamese New Year. With the end of Bohag Bihu, fresh showers touches the soil and people get ready for the first season of agriculture in the new year.
Bihu dance is the most unique element of the Bohag Bihu celebration. Bihu dance means the expression of joy, love and happiness. People belonging to various age groups—both old and young—get together to sway to the rhythm of the dhol, pepa and gogona. There are many forms of Bihu dance: One, the Husori (performed in the courtyard of the villagers); two, Mukoli Bihu (the form of Bihu dance performed in an open space with boys and girls); three, Jeng Bihu (performed by women in an open space); four, Rati Bihu (performed during the night only by the women); five, Gos Tolor Bihu (performed under a tree, almost similar to Mukoli Bihu). Among all of these the performance of Husori is still popular. Although, Mukoli Bihu and Jeng Bihu has been reintroduced mainly in the Bihu dance competitions.
Husori: As we have discussed earlier, the culture of Bihu dance performances in the courtyard of the villagers may have emerged during the Ahom rule. Initially it began in the courtyard of Rangghor to entertain the king, then moved to the courtyard of the officials, and, finally, it gained popularity with the villagers too. During the time of Vaishnavism, Husori assimilated the flavour of spirituality in its repertoire. The existing structure of Husori is a legacy of that form. Mention may be made here that the body language, movement, gestures and postures of this dance is gaudy, although these may vary from place to place. While women were not a part of traditional Husori performances, participating only in Jeng Bihu and Rati Bihu separately, a more active involvement of women can be observed in the modern times.
Ghosha and Pada: When a group of Husori entered into the courtyard of a villager’s home, they started with Pada and Ghosha. This particular segment is full of spiritual songs directed mainly to one god. The entire group of performers sit down in a typical posture and then gradually start singing together. While singing the last lines of the Pada or Ghosha, they start dancing with different movement. An example of a Pada is as follows:
Eehhh Gobin Krishnai Rama Narayana
Hori ehe joi
Prothome pronamu Brahma Rupi Sanatana
(The song is a prayer to the god. Gobin, Krishna, Rama, Narayana, Sanatana are different names of Lord Krishna.)
Jujona: Jujona is the opening part of the dance performance of Bihu. It is performed and sung just after the Pada and Ghosha part. A person sings the first lines of a Jujona, followed by others joining in. This part is also a reminder to the dancers to get ready to dance to the rhythm of dhol. A Jujona goes as follows:
Sage selabore dobuwa kotari
Oi pohu selabore oi bit
Others: Pohu selabore oi bit
Dai dukh khemiba somajor raij oi
Gai jau botoror geet
(The song says that they want to sing songs related to Bohag. If there is any mistake while singing; just pardon them. this practice is a way of showing respect to the spectators)
Lora Nas (dance of the male dancers): After Jujona in Husori, the boys come forward to dance in a circular motion. At first they dance to the rhythm of the dhol, gradually picking up with the rhythm of both the songs and the dhol. The most important part here is Lohori—a kind of dance where the performers hold each other’s hands and dance on songs like:
Ah herou homoniya/ Khelu ami lohoriya
Bohagor bihu pai oi/ Ga kore ga kore dheleng dhepeng
Thus the boys also dance on the tunes of pepa (horn), gogona and banhi (flute). It is said that earlier it was the boys who performed kanhi ghuruwa nas (dancing with plates in hand) but nowadays it is a performed only by the girls. The rhythm of Lora Nas in Bihu is accompanied by simple steps and peculiar waist movements, which, however, required the dancers to be extremely flexible.
Suwali Nas (dance by the girls): Once the boys complete their dance, the girls come forward singing the Jujona as follows:
Ulal Jaki Mari/ Oi Pukhurir Muwa Maas
Ulal Jaki Mari oi tora
Others: Ulal Jaki Mari oi Tora
Ulal Jaki Mari/ Amare Nasoni
Somajor Majore Pora
(Like the way the star appears in the sky and fishes in the pond, our dancers come to the courtyard)
Just as in Lora Nas, Suwali Nas also begins with the girls dancing to the rhythm of the dhol. However, the songs are of different kinds: Jura Naam, Thela Naam. An example of Jura Naam is given below:
Boys: Gogona Aroni/ Gogona Puroni
Gogona kihere baye oi aijoni
Girls: Dufale dusoti/ Majote esoti
Ukhahor tiptoe baye oi senaiti
(The first two lines ask how to play the Gogona. The girls reply that it can be played by breathing.)
This is then followed by dancing in the accompaniment of the gogona and pepa. While the gogona is played by the girls themselves, the pepa is played by a musician known as pepuwa. A pepuwa enters into the group of dancing girls in a typical posture and performs the pepa. Generally, the girls bend their body towards the pepuwa, positioned at the centre, and then start dancing around him in a circle. Sometime dancers also perform the Kanhi dance—holding heavy plates in difficult tricks on their hand they start moving in a circular motion, usually performed by the most expert dancers.
Burha Naas: This is a special segment of Bihu dance which is dedicated to the old performers who can’t dance fast due to their age. The rhythms are very slow compared to others. An example of a song sang on this segment is as follows:
Ame paat holale/ Jame paat holale
Holal bore gose/ Pate oi Ram Ram
(This describes the change in nature with the arrival of Bohag. It says that the trees like mango have changed its leaf.)
The particular rhythmic pattern of the drum played in this dance is called Burha Seu.
The ending: There is no such formal ending to Husori. Once the performers have finished dancing, the house owner comes forward with a Xorai (a brass offering tray mounted on a stand) offering betel-nut and a small monetary contribution to the institution for which the Husori is being performed). Generally, contributions received by the Husori performers is passed on for the development of the local Namghor (the community prayer hall of a region). Although, earlier, stories have been heard of people performing Husori to buy salt (the Assamese population in pre-independence India did not consume salt with food; they used to make do with Khar, which was made of banana peel).
Mukoli Bihu: The word ‘mukoli’ means an open space. The Mukoli Bihu performance is done in open space amidst nature. Earlier when women were not allowed to participate in the Husori performance, Mukoli Bihu was a platform where boys and girls got the opportunity to get together and perform. This performance is more joyful and light-hearted than the Husori. The Pada and Ghosha are not included here. The performance starts when a group of women performers meets a group of boys and then start dancing together. Generally, it starts with a Jujona and is followed by other parts like pepa dance, gogona dance. This dance form is, however, fading in the villages, while it gets a lot of attention in the Bihu competitions.
Jeng Bihu: It is said that when women of a particular area gathered near a forest to collect firewood during the month of Bohag, they would perform Bihu dance by themselves. Since women were not allowed participation in the Husori performances in the earlier times, they performed the same in such informal gatherings. This type of dance, therefore, was performed without any musical accompaniments. The women just sing and dance. This type of Bihu is not practised much in the villages but the competition culture also includes it nowadays.
Rati Bihu: This is a much earlier practice of Bihu, which involved the gathering of women at night in a distant place where no men can see them. It is similar to Jeng Bihu in terms of repertoire. The idea was to celebrate the liberation of women from the everyday life of domesticity. It is a lost practice nowadays.
Gos Tolor Bihu: Similar to Mukoli Bihu, this dance, however, is performed under a tree. The songs, movements and gait remain the same as Mukoli Bihu.
Dance Movements and Body Language
Khupat Dhora Nas: Women dance to the rhythm of the dhol with their hands placed at the nape of their necks.
Takuri Ghura Nas: Dancing very fast in circular motion at the same place.
Pokhila Uradi Nosa: This means dancing like a butterfly. Here the hand movements are like the wings of a butterfly.
Gaits or Footsteps
Mokora Buloni: It suggests that the feet movements of the dancer are like that of a spider.
Parua Buloni: It suggests that feet movements of the dancer are similar to an ant moving to its destination.
Musical Instruments used in Bihu Dance
Dhol: A drum. Made from the wood of mango or jackfruit trees, cow’s skin and small pieces of bamboo. The term for the colour of the dhol is hengul-haital. It is played with a bamboo stick.
Pepa: This is a horn made of buffalo’s horn and bamboo pieces. There are two varieties: one-horned (etiya pepa) and two-horned (juriya pepa).
Gogona: This is a small piece of bamboo. It is played by blowing air in a particular manner while holding it near the lips. It comes in two types: lahori and ramdhon.
Toka: Made of bamboo, this instrument is used to keep the rhythm of the dance. A piece of round bamboo is divided in such a pattern that it will make a sound.
Banhi (flute): Made of a type of bamboo called bijuli, it is similar to the common flute.
Hutuli: This is a small piece of hard mud, in the middle of which a hole is made, and is played by blowing air into the hole.
Girls: Nowadays, Mekhela Chador made of muga silk is usually used by female dancers, but earlier girls used any colourful cloths which maintained the uniformity of the group. They also wear kapou ful (orchids) in their hair, Gam kharu or Muthi kharu, a type of bangle, on their wrists, a hasoti (small towel) on their waist and a riha (a piece of cloth) under the chador. Assamese traditional ornaments like junbiri, dhol biri are used. To add colour to their lips, they used the colour from a small tree called Barhamthuri. At present these are not strictly followed as the barhamthuri and kapou ful cannot be found so easily.
Boys: The costumes of boys include a dhoti, a chapkan chola, baniyan or a kurta-like shirt. On the neck and on the head they use gamocha. On the waist they wear the tongali (a piece of red cloth like the gamocha). On their both hands boys wear romal or hasoti (a small piece of cloth). Sometimes they take cloth bags to carry their musical instruments or things. During the Ahom period and prior to that male performers also uses to wear ornaments like Jhangfai and Lokapar. The modern-day male performer, however, doesn’t use ornaments at all.
Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu
Magh or Bhogali Bihu is the festival of feast. This festival is celebrated in the Assamese month of Magh (mid-January) and marks the harvesting of the crops, when the farmers finally get a window of rest after a prolonged period of hard labour in the fields and when there is surplus food. The idea is to thank the gods for the blessing of a good harvest, especially rice. During the two days of the festival, people of a particular Chuk-Chuburi or khel or the village gather to have a feast together.
Rituals and Practices
The rituals of this festival vary from place to place. For example, in many places people have the feast during the day and in many places during the night. Generally, the last day of the month of Puh (the month preceding Magh) is observed as Uruka. The preparation for the feast begins two-three days before Uruka, when all come together to build the Bhela Ghor (a typical house made of straw, built in the middle of an empty paddy field). On the day of Uruka, everybody gathers there in the morning to prepare the feast. The tradition was to prepare the feast from the vegetables they cultivated. In the morning, men went to the river to collect fish. Nowadays, however, fish, meat and vegetables are bought from the market. The community together prepares the food and thus the feast. Alongside the males build a stake of firewood called ‘Meji’. At the top of it a pair of bow and arrow is set up pointing towards the sky.
At night people stay inside the Bhela Ghor. The idea is to work serve as a night watcher of the ‘Meji’. In the Bhela Ghor they partake of pithas and jolpan prepared during the feast. In the wee hours of the next day, on the first day of the month of Magh, after taking a bath in the nearest water body and the Meji is set on fire. At the time of the fire people offer prasad to the 'Meji’. It is believed that the Meji symbolises the god. Once the fire grows high people gather around for a prayer. An example of such a prayer is below:
Jaio Rama Bula
Jaio Hori Bula
Deka Mejir Kushalarthe
Joio Rama Bula
Burha Mejir Kushalarthe
Joio Hori Bula
Joio Rama Bula
Goru Mohor Kushalarthe
Joio Rama Bula
(These lines addresses the gods, seeking blessings for the people, animals and the society)
Once the Meji fire is over, many people start preparing for their next feast like the one mentioned before. Generally, this is the first day of Magh; guests and relatives visit families and exchange pithas and snacks. During the morning session of that day there are also rituals which involve the consumption of boiled potatoes of different types (Ronga Alu, Kath Alu, Muwa Alu, etc.).
As mentioned earlier, the rituals are of different kinds in different places. It is seen in the Lower Assam region that the the Meji they build is of straw only and they set fire both to the Bhela Ghor and the Meji in the morning.
Kati Bihu or Kongali Bihu
The word ‘kongal’ means ‘scarcity’. And, yes, this festival falls during the days of scarcity, when the paddies in the field are half-grown and there are very few reserves in the granaries. This Bihu is observed during the Assamese moth of Kati (mid-October). Since there is scarcity all around, the festival doesn’t allow much celebration. However, some important rituals and rites are observed to ward off evil from the crops and the community on the evening of the day of Kati Bihu.
Rituals and practices
Like the other Bihus, pithas and jolapan are prepared during these days but not on a large scale as during Rongali Bihu and Bhogali Bihu. Generally, it is observed at night, when there is darkness around. Assamese people light lamps (Matir Saki) amidst paddy fields and all around their home. The main ritual of this Bihu is ‘Lakhimi Ana’; which means collecting the half-grown rice sample from the field. At first the owner or the farmer offers his/her prayer to the paddy field, followed by cutting some paddy, which is then covered with a gamocha and taken to be placed it in front of the Bhoral (the granary). Once this is done, all the family members along with the guests gather near the tulsi tree in the courtyard to offer prayers to gods. At the end, prasads, snacks and pithas are distributed to one and all. Thus ends the day of Kati Bihu.