Magh Bihu: History and significance to Assamese Culture | Art & Culture | Nelive

Magh Bihu: History and significance to Assamese Culture

Jan 08, 2016 18:25
Guwahati
656
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Magh Bihu

Magh Bihu celebrations start on the last day of the previous month, the month of "Pooh", usually the 29th of Pooh and usually the 14th of January, and is the only day of Magh Bihu in modern times (earlier, the festival would last for the whole month of Magh, and so the name Magh Bihu). The night before is "Uruka" (28th of Pooh), when people gather around a bonfire, cook dinner, and make merry. There are other conventional festivals observed by various ethnic-cultural groups. Me-dam-me-phi, Ali-aye-ligang, Porag, Garja, Hapsa Hatarnai, Kherai are few among them.The Koch celebrates this bihu as pushna. All Assamese people around the world celebrates this tradition on the month of January as per English calendar. The Uruka comes on 13 January & Bihu is on 14–15.

Importance of Magh Bihu

It all starts on the eve of the Bhogali Bihu day when young men move into the fields and set up Mejis: structures made of thatch, firewood, and hay, which are burnt on the following morning. Around these Mejis, temporary hut like structures called Bhelaghars are also set up. People, especially the agrarian community, spend the whole of the night in these Bhelaghars, guarding the Mejis through the night and partaking in community feasting, fun, games, music and dancing to Bihu geets. In the night, a grand feast is prepared and the whole community partakes in it. In the morning at sunrise, people move out from Bhelaghars, take a bath, and then return to light fire to Mejis. Edibles like coconuts and betel nuts are thrown into the fire which is like symbol of thanksgiving for the harvest that has been collected. People also pray to the Agni Devta and seek his blessing for the next harvest season.

The half burnt firewood gathered by the people is thrown among the fruit bearing trees to seek an abundant harvest. Then all the trees in the compound are tied to bamboo strips or paddy stems. The celebrations then go on for the rest of the day with more feasting and exciting sports, some of which are region specific, like buffalo fighting, cock fighting, and egg fighting. These however, have no religious significance and are played simply for some competitive enjoyment. The birds that are caught for the sports (few days before the events) are fed nutritiously and also trained. The owner of the winning bird or buffalo takes away a cash prize and a trophy as collectible. In the end all the birds are freed and the celebrations continue for some more time, or days in a few culturally ethnic groups. Thus ends the festival of Bhogali Bihu and people await eagerly for a new beginning with Rongali Bihu.

Bihu History

Historically, it is believed that the festival of Bihu originated in the pre-Aryan days around the 3500 century BC. From then onwards to the following many centuries until the recent, celebrations used to last for a month or more, which now have been reduced to a week. Even the word "Bihu" is said to have been derived from the language of Dimasa Kacharis, an agrarian tribe that has existed from many a centuries. Since long, Bihu has been a festival to rejoice, offer thanks, and pray for a bountiful harvest.

The Bihu songs also had an influence on Assamese literature, and legend has it that Madhav Deva (early 15th century), whose outstanding contributions include Assamese rendering of the Adi Kanda of Valmiki's Ramayana; and Sankar Deva (early 15th century), the great hymn composer could not escape from the influence of Bihu geets.

Most explanations of the origins of Bihu have stemmed from etymological investigations. In the sacred Hindu texts Atharvaveda (900 BCE) and the AitareyaBra hmana

(c. 600 BCE), the Sanskrit word Bisuvan occurs, referring to a day on which a fire sacrifice was performed in the hope of obtaining a better crop. This word, together with the practices it involved, is believed by various scholars to be the root of the present-day word Bihu and the festival’s attendant customs (P. Goswami 1996, 1–6). Other texts, such as the Vishnu Pura¯ na (c.400 CE), state that a festival called Bisuva took place between winter and spring, when the sun changed its position from one particular sign of the zodiac to the next (P. Goswami1996, 1).Twentieth-century etymological studies that search for Sanskrit sources of words are also reflective of approaches intended to reinforce the view of Assamese culture as part of an Indo-Aryan lineage and its form as a result of the Sanskritisation of local cultures. Relatively recent interpretations looking at the Tai origin of the word relate it to a form of cattle worship, construed from boi, “the rules of worship,” and hu, “cow” (Sarmah 1996, 61). This, however, does not explain the presence of festivals of similar name and origin in other parts of India.

This is celebrated on the last day of the month ‘Puh' and lasts for three days. It is celebrated after the annual harvest; the name ‘Bhogali' suggests banquets and food – indeed, this is the Bihu for those fond of food and eating! The last day of ‘Puh' is called ‘Uruka', when the men folk construct a makeshift cottage called the ‘Bhelaghars' and the ‘meji' – a tall structure of fire-wood and bamboo poles in the field. The fun, feasting and gaiety continue through the night. The next day, at dawn, the community pays homage to the god of fire – setting alight the meji and then offering sweetmeats to the fire. After this, people visit each other's homes, and refreshments of various kinds are served. Among the chief attractions of this Bihu is the Buffalo fight and Bulbul fight. The parallels for the Magh Bihu are the ‘Nara-siga' Bihu of the Misings and the ‘Pushy Par' or ‘Tushu' Puja of the tea tribes of Assam.

Jan 08, 2016 18:25
Guwahati
656
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About Author

Pranjal Kumar Phukan
A dynamic professional with B.Tech and Executive M.B.A and more than 19 years of International experience within a progressive global engineering and manufacturing organisation of technically engineered components in sectors such as Automobile, Telecom, and Petrochemical industries. He has received “Peter F Drucker award” for outstanding achievements in the field of management by the Board of Trustees of University of Swahili, Panama, Central America. 
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