The New year has finally dawned upon us. The parties are over and the picnics (mostly) done with. But for the people of Assam and the Assamese diaspora spread throughout the world, the festivities have just begun. We are nearing the middle of the month of January and like the entire country, Assam is gearing up for its version of the ‘Sankranti’ celebrations which in this part of the world is known as- ‘Magh Bihu’. One of the three Bihus that are celebrated in a calendar year, the Magh Bihu is one of the most eagerly awaited festivals of the state of Assam. The entire state gets saturated with the joy and fervour associated with the festival days before the actual festivities begin and why not! Its Bihu after all.
Like the two other variants of Bihu, the Magh Bihu too is a festival rooted to the harvest and cultivation sector of the state. It is synonymous to ‘Makar Sankranti’ and ‘Pongal’ which are celebrated elsewhere in the country in resonance with Magh Bihu. Magh Bihu is celebrated to mark the end of the long harvesting period in the state. The granaries of the farmers are full of paddy, vegetables and other crops which is undoubtedly the best sight any farmer can set his eyes on. The joyous sight calls for celebrations and hence the emergence of Magh Bihu. For those etymologically interested, Magh Bihu is called so because it is celebrated on the first day of the Assamese month of ‘Magh’. Actually, celebrations begin a day ahead, i.e. on the last day of the month of ‘Puh’. This evening before the day of the Bihu is known as ‘Uruka’ and it is in no way less grand than the actual Bihu itself. For the youngsters and those ‘young at heart’, Uruka brings the fun element to the Bihu. On the eve of Magh Bihu, people build a temporary structure known as a ‘Meji’ which is an amalgamation of dead tree twigs, fallen leaves, hay and dried bamboo. The Meji’s importance can be gauzed from the fact that it is nothing less than a symbol of the celebrations. On Uruka night, people stay out all night in open fields with friends and families. For the same purpose, a makeshift shelter called a ‘Bhela Ghar’is built out of hay. People spend the night in the bhela ghar, dance to Bihu songs and cook delectable dishes there. Large family feasts take place on the eve of the Bihu. Because of the abundant food supplies and the sumptuous feasts which are also known as ‘Bhog’, the Magh Bihu is also known as ‘Bhogali Bihu’.
This brings us to the actual day of the festivities. On the day of Magh Bihu, people get up early and take a bath and then everyone proceeds to the Meji that had been built the previous day. The Meji is then lit up and then begins the rituals associated with it. Prayers are offered in the form of ‘Naam’ which are traditional Assamese devotional songs. Fruits, vegetables and traditional sweets are offered to the fire deity and His blessings are sought upon. Ladies of every household prepare traditional sweets and snacks and these are distributed amidst the gatherers at the spot where the Meji is burned. And this is not the end of the festival by any means. People then visit their near and dear ones and invite them back at their places. And anywhere you go, you can easily gorge upon delicious Pithas and other snacks that are plentiful in every household of the state during these days.
Related: Top Bihu Festival Recipes
After the rituals and the festivities of the day are taken care of, various traditional games and fun events mark the afternoon and evening which you can easily enjoy with a pitha or two in your hands!