Bihu Festivals of Assam -- History and Significance

Bihu is the most important festival of Assam and signifies three different cultural festivals that are celebrated in different times of the year by the Assamese people commemorating the change of season in accord with the Assamese calendar. Since the primary occupation of the people of the state is based on agriculture, a separate solar calendar is used to mark the change of season. It is the state festival of Assam and is celebrated with grandeur and zest. It is a festival that surpasses all caste, creed, religion and class barriers, when every Assamese comes together to celebrate this festival.

Bihu is a carnival that is celebrated in Assam thrice a year with fervor and enthusiasm, which marks the change of season. The celebration of this festival has a history associated with it. It was first celebrated during 3500 B.C. and during this time, it was a month long celebration that was celebrated once a year; however, today, Bihu is celebrated thrice a year for a week. The word Bihu is said to have been derived from the local language of Dimasa “Bishu”. As this community is primarily farmers, they used to offer the first crop of the season to their supreme god Brai Shibrai praying for peace and prosperity. “Bishu” means to “ask for prosperity” and gradually it became “Bihu”. However, according to some, “Bi” means “to ask” and “Hu” means “to give”. 

Rongali Bihu, which is also called as Bohag Bihu is the first Bihu, which is celebrated to mark the beginning of the spring season.  This Bihu is an assimilation of different traditions that are taken from Indo-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic and Sino-Burmese and is celebrated with zeal and enthusiasm. It also marks the beginning of the New Year as per Assamese calendar. The other two Bihus are Bhogali Bihu and Kongali Bihu, which are celebrated in the months of January and October, respectively.
Bohag Bihu

Bohag Bihu is also known as Rongali Bihu, which marks the beginning of Assamese New Year and is celebrated with grandeur to welcome the spring. This festival coincides with other Indian Festivals, namely, Baisakhi, Sankranti and Chait. It is celebrated for a week and the whole environment is filled with happiness and merriment. Laddos and varieties of Pithas are made on this occasion and Jolapn is the main delicacy which people eat on this festival. The first day is called “Goru Bihu” and on this day, the cattle are taken to the river or pond to clean them and offer prayer. This day is celebrated on the last day of the month and the next day, which is known as “Manuh Bihu” and on this day people wear new clothes and celebrate this festival with vigor and enthusiasm. During Bohag Bihu, Bihu Dance, the famous folk dance of Assam is performed on Bihugeet.
Kati Bihu

Kati Bihu also known as Kongali Bihu is not associated with merriment and there is a feeling of gravity and restrain in the environment. It is celebrated in mid of October, when the crops are just planted and the granaries of the farmers are approximately empty. On this day, tulsi plant is planted on the fields to seek blessings for prosperity and protecting the paddy from being affected.

Bhogali Bihu

Also known as Magh Bihu, Bhogali Bihu is a harvesting festival celebrated in the month of Magh of the Hindu calendar and mid-January of the Georgian calendar. This festival is mainly a feasting festival because the granaries of people are filled with grains. On the eve of this festival, which is called “Uruka” is celebrated with grandeur and people get together for feasting. People construct Meji and Bhelaghar, a makeshift cottage, inside which people feast. Next morning, people offer prayers to the Fire God and several sports are organized like cock-fight, buffalo-fight, Nightingale-fight and Egg-fight for the entertainment of people.

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