The breathtaking hills and valleys of Assam come alive with the sound of Bihu thrice a year. A festival that marks the change of season, Bihu is accompanied both by prayer and great rejoicing. One of the seven northeastern states of India (which are also known as the Seven Sisters), Assam is renowned for its picturesque landscape, exotic fauna and fun-loving people.
Origin of Festival Edit
Originating in the pre-Aryan days around 3500 b.c., the festival of Bihu used to last for a whole month, though nowadays work pressure has reduced it to a week. A no holds barred dancing session is the most intriguing part of the festival and symbolises the fertility rites of the original inhabitants of the hilly regions of the northeast in India. The farmers fancied that the erotic content of the songs would sexually arouse the earth’s body, leading to an abundant harvest.
Bihag Bihu or Rangoli Bihu, the first of the three Bihus, is celebrated in the month of April on the dates coinciding with the sankranti, chait or baisak (13, 14 and 15 April).
Festival Celebration During The Assamese New Year Edit
According to the solar calendar that the Assamese follow, the New Year usually falls on 14th April. Brilliantly-coloured flowers and luxuriant foliage dress the whole of Assam in all the hues of the rainbow during the month of April. An abundance of kopoful (orchids), mostly purple in colour, in unusual shapes and sizes dot the trees, and the bhebel creepers are in full bloom creating an enchanting kaleidoscope of colours. No one can fault the Assamese his choice of seasons for the Bihu festivals.
The vivid attire of the Assamese youth and the colourful accessories like kopoful adorning the hair of the young lasses blend with the hues of nature, spreading joy and good cheer. The day is marked with dancing, though restricted exclusively to men, who participate with unbridled enthusiasm and energy. But the winds of change have blown through this remote state also. Surrendering to contemporary trends, youngsters gather in the town centre and learn the steps from an old hand much in demand on this day.
Gomacha Weaving for Dance Edit
Assamese women are experts at weaving the gomacha, a towel with intricately woven designs, ceremonially presented as any bihu (bihu presents) to the men of the family. A young girl too may gift these beautiful souvenirs to her beau as a token of love. Young lads love to flaunt their prizes by tying them around their waist or as headbands while dancing. But things start warming up as the Bihu Dals
approach. Now a few words about the bihu dals. They are wandering minstrels who come visiting through the week, dancing and singing devotional songs (hosari) in praise of Lord Krishna (the black god of the Hindus), invoking his blessings for health, wealth and happiness. They sing to the accompaniment of an eclectic collection of musical instruments like the dhol (drum), pepa (made of buffalo horn), gogona (made from bamboo and held between the teeth) and small cymbals. Bihu dals along with other groups gather in open grounds called bihu tolis where dancing competitions and beauty pageants are held, and the winners get to see their names in print in the local newspapers.
Garur Bihu Edit
The first day or garur bihu also called uraka falls on the day of sankranti and is devoted to the cow that is considered to be a sacred animal in India. The rationale behind the worshipping of cows is very simple. They are the greatest assets of a farmer because not only do they produce milk but also help plough fields, transport men, crop and so on. A lot of tender, loving care is showered on cows on this day, starting with bathing them in the pond. The horns and hooves are brushed with whisks made from deegloti or makheatr (lilsoca salocrfolea). A mixture of twigs, turmeric and moong dal (pulses) acts as a disinfectant, and is applied as a paste. A hearty meal of gourd and brinjal is fed to the cows after which their foreheads are marked with vermilion. As the night falls, the tired but satiated cows are led back to their sheds and thoroughly cleansed. Only then does the household sit down for a sumptuous meal of assorted preparations of chirwa (flat rice) and a mind-boggling array of sweets.
The following day is welcomed as manuhor bihu or the bihu of human beings. The Assamese celebrate their New Year on this day. A lavish feast called bihu kabo loi is laid out for the day and married daughters along with other relatives are invited to partake of the meal. On this day, delicacies such as pitha (made from rice and coconut), laddoo (made from shredded coconut) and til laddoo (made from sesame seed) are prepared. of course, no festival in India is complete without buying new clothes and Bihu is no exception. Everyone receives gomachas as presents from the ladies of the house. Women look very graceful in their new mekhele chadar, woven with the golden-coloured muga silk that is indigenous to Assam. The chic look is completed with the accessories like gumkham bracelets made from an alloy of silver and gold nuggets found in the rivers.
Gabhori Bihu Edit
Gabhori bihu falls on the third day of the festival and is earmarked as the day for young ladies. The fair maidens of Assam look gorgeous in their muga silk wear and ornate gumkham bracelets. The orchids adorning the hair of the ladies add a whimsical touch to the formality of the outfit. Swaying to the beat of the toka (drum) and gogona (made from bamboo held between the teeth), the women dance the night away under the gentle breeze of banyan trees. Couplets are created spontaneously. Starting with a slow tempo, the rhythm builds up to a crescendo. Once the merrymaking is over, it is customary to present fermented betel leaves over a gomacha to the dancers. On the final day, the festivities end on a religious note wherein families inscribe a mantra (religious hymn of the Hindus) on the leaves of nahar pat (Indian ironwood tree). Through this mantra, Lord Shiva (the Destroyer in the Holy Hindu Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer) is invoked to protect everyone against disease, storms and rain, and to bring peace and prosperity in the forthcoming year.
Kati Bihu Edit
The second bihu named kati bihu or kangali bihu is held in the month of kartik (September or October). But there is a world of difference in the celebration of this bihu from the former. Slowly but surely, winter is approaching, heralding the season for sowing seeds.
This is a solemn occasion as people worship the deities for a rich harvest. The young learn to value hard work so that they do not squander money away. Predictably enough, this bihu is dedicated to the worship of none other than Goddess Lakshmi who is the dispenser of wealth to mortals. As night falls, lamps are lit in the paddy fields where farmers have toiled through the day. At the end of a hard day’s work, all the members of a family pray to the benign Goddess for the well-being of their crop and cattle. Sacred to the Hindus, the tulsi (basil) tree is planted or pruned in the courtyard of each household. Water is poured over the plant with great reverence after puja is performed every day. The medicinal properties of tulsi are well known the world over; the age-old recipe of tulsi leaves mixed with a few grains of black pepper and misri (sugar in the form of crystals) is a surefire way to stay in good health.
Magh Bihu Edit
The Magh bihu that generally falls on 14th January on the sankranti of the month, is the third bihu that calls for a grand celebration in Assamese homes. This is again a joyous occasion as the granaries are stocked with the recently harvested crop. Seven days of non-stop fun and frolic mark this festival. But the best thing about this bihu is the elaborate and sumptious cuisine that is prepared. This grand feast known as bhog is held on the night of the first day of the festival that is also called uruka.
Savour the Flavour of Assam with the Assam Tea Edit
Assam in India is located in northeastern part of India. Assam - the home of the tiger and the one-horned rhino is the world’s single largest tea-growing region, producing more than 1,500,000 pounds of tea yearly. This land of wide spread tea gardens and tea estates, produces some absolutely stunning, high quality (and very expensive) teas. The tea of Assam is mostly of commercial grade. Book a tour to Assam
The Exclusive Assam Tea Edit
The quality of Assam tea is excellent. Assam, as with Darjeeling, has a first flush and a second flush tea. The first flush has a rich and refreshing aroma; the second flush produces the famous "tippy teas." It is this feature of the teas of the second flush which makes them more preferred. (Tippy refers to black tea with gold tips or what appears to be golden-coloured leaf). The amount of tip varies, depending upon where in Assam the tea estate from which the tea comes is located. Additionally, not all tea estates have the ability or capacity to generate "tippy teas."
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