So it begins. The new-year is finally upon us and with it brings about a whole new set of celebrations, festivals and merriments that are such a vital and indispensable part of Indian customs. While we have just wasted ourselves bidding goodbyes to the bygone year via parties and picnics (which for some are still going on), its time already to gather ourselves for the first festival of the Indian calendar- the Sankranti. And if you happen to be from the north east and especially from the beautiful state of Assam, you know where this is leading to! Yes, I am talking about the first of the three Bihus that the state celebrates -the Magh Bihu.
The traditional Bihu dance in progress
Celebrated all around the country with differing names- some call it Makar Sankranti, some Pongal- this pan Indian festival known as MaghBihu in Assam because it falls on the first day of the Assamese month ‘Magh’ is a festival that is celebrated amidst much fanfare in the state and among the Assamese diaspora all around the world.
Like the other two, this Bihu too has its roots deeply dipped in the agrarian culture of the state. The month of Magh brings forth the season when the harvest season is over and as such the granaries of the farmers are full of paddy, vegetables and fruits. This is undoubtedly the most satisfying sight for any person whose life revolves around agriculture. Because there is such a huge surplus of food available, this definitely calls for some celebration without second thoughts. This idea gave wings to this Bihu that has now become something with which the Assamese people identify themselves. And because there is a mass availability of food, also known as ‘Bhog’ in Assamese, this Bihu is also known as ‘Bhogali Bihu’.
Pithas- the most loved assamese savoury
The actual celebrations begin one night before the month of Magh begins, i.e. on the last day of the Assamese month of ‘Puh’. The night before the Bihu is known as ‘Uruka’ in the local language. For the youth of the state and those who are ‘young at heart’, Uruka is the life of this Bihu. On the night of Uruka, people stay awake the entire night but not in the comforts of their homes but in specially made shelters for the night made of bamboo, hay, sticks and whatever that that comes handy. These shelters are known as ‘BhelaGhor’s. People dance to Bihu tunes, cook delectable dishes and make merry, all in this Bhela Ghor. Another structure that is constructed in this Bihu is the – ‘Meji’. A meji is in most cases a triangular upward facing structure which can be an amalgamation of hay, dead twigs, leaves and bamboo. The Meji is a traditional symbol of the Bihu and hence is of utmost importance.
Related: Deori Bihu of Assam
Construction of Meji in progress
The morning of the Bihu finally arrives. People wake up early, take bath and proceed to the Meji that had been built the previous day. The Meji is then lit up by fire and the fire deity is then worshipped with the help of Asamese devotional songs, known as ‘naam’. The ladies of the households then get busy with the most important aspect of any festival- its food! MaghBihu is known for the most popular Assamese snack of all times- the ‘Pitha’. Pitha and a host of other savouries are cooked. People then visit their friends, families and neighbours and gorge on some top class Assamese food. Evenings are marked by various fun filled events in which kids, men, women all participate with equal fervour and it is this feeling of oneness that makes the Magh Bihu so very important in the cultural pyramid of the state of Assam.