Panimur Waterfall

Panimur waterfall – The Niagara of Assam

Panimur waterfall is located in Umrangso of Dima Hasao district of Assam in the North Cachar hills. This offbeat tourist destination is called the Niagara of Assam and the resemblance cannot be overlooked. The beautiful Kopili river water hitting the rocks with great force finally gushes down creating the image of a lively and free spirited soul enjoying its youth. The bard of Assam, Late Dr. Bhupen Hazarika in one of his songs calls the Kopili river a young free spirited girl who is unpredictable yet with many qualities.

Kopili Kopili rangdhali suali

Mohima buja ke taan

Kopili Kopili toi hoi baoli

Barixhat marili dhaan

Kopili Kopili gabhoru suali

Chanchala nai tur maan

Kopili Kopili dehar bhaje bhaje

Mitha jowbonore gaan

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika
Panimur waterfall, Dima Hasao
Source: gosahin.com

With youth comes the wavering of the heart, the desire to wander and fall in love and Kopili river too is like a girl who has just become of age. She meanders through the rocky ways creating a bubbling sound just like a girl singing and dancing. The water then cascades down the hills and at this level the water is milky white in colour just like a girl dressed in a wavy white dress. This is the spring of a girl’s life when she is full of vigour and youthfulness.

This exactly is witnessed in the Panimur waterfall part of the Kopili river. But soon Kopili changes colour with the monsoon, she now takes on a devastating look. She levels down the paddy and the plains with her fierce waters creating a havoc.

Panimur waterfall is relatively less explored by tourists but has great tourism potential. It is gradually becoming popular because the beautiful natural surroundings and the ethereal beauty of the fall itself is finally reaching the masses. The picturesque location is favourite among photographers and videographers too. There’s a forest nearby which adds to the beauty and thrill of the place.

The Forest Inspection Bungalow can accomodate few tourists on prior notice but it would be better to stay at nearby Lumding or even Guwahati.

Places to visit near Panimur:

Haflong lake
Source: noblehousetours.com

#1. Haflong: Haflong, which is at an altitude of more than 600 metres above sea level, is the district headquarters of Dima Hasao and is the only hill station in Assam. Dima Hasao means ‘Dimasa hills’ in the local language.

Haflong is a dream destination for nature lovers and camping enthusiasts. One can do trekking in the Haflong hill or do camping among the vibrant green forests. Located at the heart of the city Haflong lake is a major tourist attraction. It has the largest natural water bodies of Assam and much like Deepor Beel, it is a haven for migratory birds in winter.

#2. Maibong: Maibong is a beautifully landscaped small town with mountains, waterfalls and many historical relics. It is located in the hilly region of Mahur river. The main attractions is the two-roofed monolithic temple Ramchandi.

Jatinga river
Source: reddit.com

#3. Jatinga: Jatinga is located at a distance of 9 km from Haflong and is a popular bird watching site. This place is actually famous for its ‘bird suicide ‘ phenomenon. The locals observed that during the months of August and November different species of birds die because of mysterious reasons here. Tourists visit this place during these months to witness this strange phenomenon which later, however, was deciphered by the scientists.

#4. Umrangso: Umrangso in Dima Hasao is an industrial town with projects like NEEPCO (Kopili hydro-electric project) and cement plants of Vinay Cement, Dalmiya Cement etc.

Garampani was a very popular hot spring in this region but the dam water made it disappear completely which is a great loss indeed.

Kopili hydro-electric project (NEEPCO)
Source: neepco.co.in

How to reach:

Panimur waterfall is situated at a distance of 120 kms from Haflong.

It is at a distance of around 217 kms from Guwahati and takes approximately 5 hours to reach the destination via road. You can take a flight to Gopinath Bordoloi International airport, Guwahati and hire a cab directly. You can also opt to board a train to Lumding and then hire a cab.

Lumding is the nearest Railway station from where Panimur is located at a distance of 72.2 kms. From there one can hire a cab to visit this place. Lumding is well connected by the major trains from states around the country.

Where to stay:

Haflong has good lodging options from where you can visit Panimur waterfall and the nearby places as well. You can easily check in at the following hotels in Haflong.

Landmark Hotel, Haflong
Source: tripadvisor.in
  • Landmark Hotel: This hotel overlooks the beautiful Haflong lake and has 49 rooms ranging from luxury suites to standard rooms. A few tourist attractions, other than Panimur waterfall, are at a walking distance from this hotel. The hotel has an in-house fine dining restaurant and bar facilities as well.
  • Eastern Hotel: Located centrally in Haflong the hotel offers comfortable lodging. It also has an in-house restaurant where you can enjoy an Assamese meal.

Best time to visit:

Panimur Waterfall
Source: theoodlesrainbow.com

Autumn is the best time to visit when the fall looks best and so is Spring. In summer the water dries down a little and winter tends to be cold. Monsoon is the worst time since the river Kopili takes a devastating role destroying the nearby paddy fields and villages as well.

The timings to visit this waterfall is from 6AM to 5 PM.

The weather remains comparatively pleasant throughout. But October to March are the most comfortably months to visit Dima Hasao in general.

Me-Dam-Me-Phi: AHOM’S Ancestor worship

The life of the dead is set in the memory of the living

Marcus Tullius Cicero

The Ahom community of Assam practices their own unique customs and rituals. Me-Dam-Me-Phi is one of such ceremonies, in-fact it is the most important socio-religious ceremony of the Ahoms performed to show respect to the departed souls and remember their contribution to society. It is the proper ancestor worship conducted as a community by the Ahoms every year on 31st January. The Tai words ‘me‘ means offerings, ‘dam‘ means ancestors and ‘phi‘ means Gods; collectively meaning “offerings to the ancestors and Gods”.

Ancestor worship
Source: happenings.lpu.in

Origin:

According to the Ahom Chronicles, Lengdon, the king of Mong Phi ( the heavenly kingdom) sent two of his grandsons Khun-Lung and Khun-Lai to Mong Ri ( present day Xishuangbanna, China). They were advised by the God of Knowledge to perform Umpha, Phuralong, Me-dum-me-phi, and Rik-khwan worships at different months of a year on different occasions to pay respect to the ancestors. This was like seeking blessings from the ancestors to help maintain their political hold over the masses.

History:

Charaideo, about 30 kms from Sivasagar town, was the first capital of the Ahom kingdom and later became their religious centre. There is a huge burial ground here with many mounds or maidams of Ahom kings, queens and Ahom royalty. The Ahoms don’t burn the dead bodies but keep it in a box and bury. This burial mound is called maidam.

Charaideo Maidam.
Source: mapsofindia.com

Me-Dam-Me-Phi was celebrated here in Charaideo first by Swargadeo Siu-ka-pha to seek blessings of his forefathers after establishing the new capital there. His successors continued performing this ceremony thereafter, which was attended by the king, his ministers and other higher officials, as well as a great number of people. There are historical evidence of the Ahom kings performing this socio-religious ceremony every year. Swargadeo Siu-huim-mong to commemorate his victory over the Kacharis in 1563 performed Me-Dam-Me-Phi and Rikhwan festival in his capital. Swargadeo Pratap Singha performed this worship thrice, in 1606 AD and 1615 AD to celebrate his victory against the Mughals, third time was when he was defeated by the Mughals.

Swargadeo Gadadhar Singha, Swargadeo Chakradwaj Singha, Swargadeo Pramatta Singha, Swargadeo Rajeswar Singha also performed the ceremony and offered sacrifices during their reign. The ceremony is still performed at Charaideo maidam every year.

The Ceremony and its significance:

The Ahoms believe that a man is not reborn after his death but becomes God. After death he remains as Dam (ancestor) only for a few days and soon he becomes Phi (God). They also believe that the soul of a man which is immortal unites with the supreme soul, possesses the qualities of a spiritual being and always blesses the family. Therefore the extended family and the society as a whole worship the dead ones, particularly the parents and grandparents because they firmly believe that it is the ancestors who protect the family and give peace and prosperity to their offspring.

Me-Dam-Me-Phi observed as a community offers worship to Chaufi and Dam Chaufi who are regarded as gods of heaven. Dam Chaufi is associated with the belief of some natural powers like creation and destruction, water, lightning and storm, sun, moon, learning, diseases, earth etc. The Ahom priestly classes Deodhai, Mohan and Bailung perform the rituals by chanting verses in Tai Language.

Community ancestor worship or Me-Dam-Me-Phi
Source: festivalsoflife.blogspot.com

On the day of Me-Dam-Me-Phi seven Gods are worshipped namely Lengdon (God of heaven), Zasingfa (Goddess of learning), Khaokham (God of waters), Ai-Leng-Din (God of the earth), Chit Lam Cham (seven sons of Lengdon), Mut-Kum-Tai-Kum (God of the moon and sun), and Zansaihung (the preceptor of Gods). It is customary for three priests to be present to perform the rituals.

When the Ahom kings arranged this worship sacrifices and offerings were made of white buffalo, white cow, white pig, and white hen. These days offerings of only hen and eggs are made. For the rituals the things required are: 30 hen, 30 eggs, 2 duck eggs, Xajpani, Aroi chaul (a type of rice), mustard oil, ginger, salt, Black gram, Akhoi (a kind of puffed rice), Kesa mithoi, Ukhua kesa kol, poka kol (ripe banana), kuhiar (sugarcane), bora bhat (sticky rice), thoka tamul (betel nuts) and earthen lamps etc.

The Dam Phi tradition is also observed at the family level by the Ahom community. Na-Purushor hokaam or Mritokor hokaam as it is widely known is done by the family members every year during kati month when they offer the first meal after the harvest of the Ahu rice to them. Grihadam, the ancestor God upto the fourth generation of a family, is worshipped in this Dam-Phi or Na-khua tradition. Five gods are worshipped excluding Chit-Lam-Cham and Mut-kum-tai-kum when the worship is done by the extended family. However, the worship is sometimes restricted to only Lengdon, Zasingfa and Ai-Leng-Din when conducted by a family. During Magh bihu and Rongali bihu, as well as other important occasions Mritokor hokaam is performed.

Offerings to Dam Phi.
Source: Self

Most Ahom households establish a damkhuta on the opposite side of the kitchen to worship the dead. Whenever during any special occasion na-purushor hokaam is arranged, the ancestors are worshipped by offering xajpani and various other delicacies, including meat and fish in an elaborate ritualistic affair.

Chale nerakhe, bere nerakhe

Nerakhe tridasar deo

Ghar deo e nerakhile rakhuta e aru keo

This hymn in Assamese means “neither the roof nor the walls nor the gods in heaven can protect the family, if not protected by their ancestors. ” The love and respect which is the basis of any happy and successful family is duly offered to the family members even after death by the Ahoms. Me-Dam-Me-Phi is just a day for the entire community to come together bonded by brotherhood, and express love and gratitude to their ancestors and seek their blessings.

Tea Gardens: The perfect post-lockdown getaway in Assam

The Covid-19 pandemic and the worldwide lockdown has left all travel lovers so dull and empty from within. At this point what everyone is craving for is to break free and set out on a trip…solo, group or family does not matter. What matters is to able to breathe the fresh air and dispel the gloom.

The to-do bucket list post-lockdown must be ready already even though International borders are still sealed. Even State borders are yet to open for travel purposes. In Assam too the scenario is same at the present. But once lockdown is lifted and life comes to normal, a vacation amidst the greenery of the tea gardens is what sounds like a perfect getaway.

Tea gardens in Upper Assam are idyllic for a rejuvenating getaway once the lockdown is lifted. Getting up to the lush green plantation all around you, sipping a cup of your favourite Assam tea brewed to your taste or even trekking along the nature trails around the estate would be so satisfying. This is a vacation that sounds so perfect at a crucial time like this when even getting out of your homes is a distant dream. You may even get to witness tea garden workers plucking fresh tea leaves along these trails.

There’s a popular song by our very own music maestro late Dr. Bhupen Hazarika which vividly creates this picture in my mind every time I hear it.

Eti kunhi duti paat

Rattanpur bagichat

Lohpohia haatere

Kune nu singile

O kune nu singile

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika
A female worker plucking tea leaves

For daytime activities you can choose to visit a local ethnic village to experience their culinary flavours. For example, Margherita in Tinsukia district is home to the Singhpho ethnic tribe of Assam believed to be the first tea drinkers of Assam. They have a very rich and interesting history which dates back to 1823 when their chief Bessa Gam invited Major Bruce of the East India Company to taste a medicinal drink prepared from a wildly growing plant. This was how the British was introduced to tea and thereafter began the huge plantations of tea.

You can also take a dive into the flavourful cuisine of the Singhpho tribe which have influence of Thai, Chinese and Myanmarese cuisine also. There are a very few restaurants in Margherita which serves purely ethnic Singhpho food like Singhpho Villa and Singhpho Eco Lodge. Singhpho Eco Lodge located in Inthem village of Margherita can also accommodate guests and showcase the process of making their unique organic tea called Phalap.

Singpho Eco tourist lodge in Inthem, Margherita
Singpho Eco tourist lodge in Inthem, Margherita
Source: http://www.tripoto.com

Tea tourism is still a very new concept in Assam and there are only a handful of estates which offer you the best stay.

Jorhat in Upper Assam has some of the best Heritage Bungalows of the British legacy. The Burra Sahib’s Bungalow at the Kaziranga Golf resort is one such heritage bungalow and staying at this resort will give you the feel of the colonial era. The bungalow now serves as a clubhouse but there are cottages built in the colonial style for tourists. The golf course there is one of the finest in the country developed on a 150 acre site. Kaziranga National park is around 2 and half hours drive from the resort and one can easily access jungle safari to the park.

Kaziranga Golf Resort or Burra Sahib's Bungalow
Kaziranga Golf Resort or Burra Sahib’s Bungalow
Source: http://www.yatra.com

Camping can also be a good option keeping in view the standard norms that one has to follow like social distancing post lockdown. In fact adventurers who love to experience the thrill and raw pleasure might opt for camping. It’s also much cheaper provided you plan everything well ahead.

There are numerous eco lodges of all categories near Kaziranga National park to choose from. However, there are small tea estates which might not have lodging facilities but with a little contact you might be able to plan a stay there by carrying your own tents.

Tea plant with two leaves and a bud
Tea plant with two leaves and a bud

And what sounds like an icing on the cake is to take a tour of one such local tea factory and see how your favourite tea is processed. So while you are at it plan a tour of a local tea factory and access will be easy if you befriend the owner or manager of the estate. You can also carry home a few samples of your favourite Assam tea as souvenir.

Assam, at present, has about 830 large tea gardens with 529 tea factories and almost 66000 small tea growers producing around 1.5 million pounds of tea every year. Assam produces about 54% of India’s tea industry followed by Darjeeling and Kerala. Tea Tourism in Assam has a lot more potential if proper guidance and plans are adopted by the State Govt. The unemployment issues can be dealt with and rural economy can be boosted at the same time.

A few tea estate resorts providing quality accommodation are mentioned below:

  • Kaziranga Golf Resort, Golaghat
  • Thengal Manor Heritage Tea Bungalow, Jorhat
  • The Wild Mahseer Heritage Bungalow, Tezpur
  • The Wathai Heritage Tea Bungalow, Tinsukia
  • Mancotta Chang Bungalow, Dibrugarh
  • Singhpho Eco tourist Lodge, Margherita
  • Chameli Memsaab Bungalow, Jorhat
Ahom dress worn by a child

Traditional Attires of Assam and The Ahom Dress

Traditional dress of Assam: The Mekhela Chador

Assam silk is the indigenous silk of Assam comprising of Muga, Paat and Eri silk. The traditional dress of Assam, the Mekhela Chador is mostly woven out of these three silk and is naturally the pride of the Assamese people. The mekhela chador is a three piece attire consisting of the blouse, the lower skirt called mekhela and the chador which is draped around the waist and bosom. In addition the reeha is also worn occasionally by the women folk, mainly by married women. The men wear a suria or dhoti which is an unstitched cloth worn around the waist and goes down to the knee and below, and a sula or shirt. A gamucha is the most integral part of the Assamese attire.

Assamese traditional dress of men
Source: Swarnav Borgohain

The Ahom dynasty and Class division:

Assam is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state and as such the dresses differ with each community or group. The Ahoms are an ethnic community of Assam who ruled Assam from 1228 to 1826 maintaining their sovereignty for nearly 600 years. The Ahom dynasty was established by Sukapha, a Shan prince of Mong Mao who came to Assam after crossing the Patkai mountains. During their reign they successfully resisted the Mughal expansion of North-east India but subsequently fell to the repeated Burmese invasions of Assam. In 1826 the control of the kingdom passed into the East India Company after the signing of the Treaty of Yandabo.

The Ahom kingdom was ruled by a king called Swargadeo ( Chao-Pha) who had to be a direct descendant of Sukapha, the first king. Sukapha had two great Gohains to aid him in administration – Burhagohain and Borgohain and much later in the 16th century Borpatragohain was added in administration. Then there were the royal officers and the council of ministers. Simply speaking the Ahoms also consisted of the royalty and the common subject. Based on this class division the attire of the Ahoms also differed a lot.

Traditional dress of Ahom men
Source: https://www.facebook.com/TaiAhomCultureAndHeritage/

The Ahom dress:

In the early years of the Ahom rule they were seen to wear black clothes which was only later shifted to white clothes. Particular dresses and jewellery was assigned to every class of the people which was distinctive of their social status. The dresses worn by the royalty and higher officials were not worn by the common subject. The fabric used to weave the clothes of the royals  and the higher officials were of Assam silk– either Muga, Paat or Eri silk. Mejankari and  Sopapotia kapur are also certain types of clothes which were worn by them.

In my previous post on Choklong marriage, the unique marriage system of the Ahoms have been discussed in detail. In that post the wedding dress of the Ahom bride and groom have also been discussed. There’s not much difference of the wedding dress from that of the normal dress of the Ahoms.

Traditional dress of Ahom women
Source: picbear.org

The dress of an Ahom women is basically a three piece attire consisting of the suti sula , the mekhela and the reeha. The suti sula is the blouse, the mekhela is like the skirt and the reeha is draped around the waist and the shoulder. Another distinctive part of their attire was the turban or paguri worn on the head, and the cheleng chador worn like a scarf. This was mainly worn by kings, princes, princesses as well as higher officials.

The men wore the sapkon which is like a short shirt and is tied at the waist with Basual tongali, a kind of belt type strap. The suria is the lower garment wrapped around the waist and extended to the knee or below it. The length of the suria defined the social class of the people to a great extent. The cheleng chador is worn as a scarf and the paguri is worn on the head. The Hengdang is the pride and identity of an Ahom male which is a sword carried by them. These clothes were again distinctive of the royals and the higher officials. The Ahom king Swargadeo Rudra Singha was the first to introduce the shirt in Assam. The Ahom kings started wearing the sapkon in the Mughal style made by kingkhap, mejankari and gomseng silk yarn.

Neev in Ahom dress/ attire

The paguri and cheleng chador were not meant for the common subjects of the Ahom kingdom. Theirs was a more simple dress which was restricted to a kopahi kapur or cotton. The basic difference was in the material or fabric used to weave the clothes of the Ahom royals and the subjects. In fact it was during the Ahom rule that the Assam silk of Sualkuchi was given royal patronage. Mejankari, spun with silvery white thread was the pride of the Ahom monarchs, a symbol of their status.

The traditional Ahom dress has over the years changed into the mekhela chador and sula suria. It is only occasionally that the Ahoms prefer wearing their traditional dress like in their Choklong marriage and other ceremonies of the community. The Ahom dress is, in fact, very royal, elaborate and unique as the Ahoms themselves.

A fisherman in River Brahmaputra

Mighty Brahmaputra River: The Metaphor of Life

Brahmaputra river has been a witness to the glorious history and culture of Assam for centuries. Assam is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic state. Different communities, tribes and ethnic groups have migrated and settled in Assam since the ancient times but have now become a part of the larger community called Assamese.

Rivers are a great natural force with an indomitable spirit and a great life source. The continuous flow of rivers, remaining undaunted in spite of many obstacles on its path to reach its goal, has been a great inspiration to mankind. Life, like the river, has to move on with the same indomitable spirit the river has.

River as a metaphor of life has found beautiful expression in a popular song Mahabahu Brahmaputra by our very own Dr. Bhupen Hazarika.

Mahabahu Brahmaputra

Mahamilonor tirtha

Koto yug dhori ahise prokashi

Somonnoyor artha…

~ Dr. Bhupen Hazarika
River Brahmaputra view from Dhola Sadiya bridge
River Brahmaputra view from Dhola Sadiya bridge
Source: Swarnav Borgohain

Assam is the land of Srimanta Sankardev where he preached his doctrine of Ek saran naam dharma ( Neo- Vaishnavism) along with Sri Madhavdev. It is the land where Guru Teg Bahadur and Ajan Fakir spread their teachings of universal brotherhood and built the bridge of solidarity. Because of the confluence of different religions and amalgamation of many ethnic communities Assam has a very rich and varied heritage. The river embraces this rich cultural heritage of the State and flows incessantly as if to continue to enrich its people till eternity.

The Brahmaputra is a trans- boundary river which flows through China, India and Bangladesh. It originates in Tibet as Yarlung Tsangpo, flows through Arunachal Pradesh as Siang or Dihang, and is called Luit in Assam. The Brahmaputra is the ninth largest river in the world in terms of discharge with an average of 700,000 cu ft/s . The river has a total length of about 3080.25 kms and an average depth of 38 m. The river has all the male attributes: fierce, powerful, unpredictable and overflowing with energy and hence the title Mahabahu coined by Dr. Bhupen Hazarika.

Mahabahu Brahmaputra is also the benefactor, the life source of the agricultural community of Assam. Crops depend a lot on water and irrigation, and Brahmaputra along with its tributaries never fails to provide nourishment at such times. Not only agriculture but related livelihood like fishing, wildlife etc. are also dependent on thr river. Periodic flooding is a natural phenomenon which is ecologically important because it helps maintain the lowland grassland and associated wildlife. It also deposits fresh alluvium replenishing the fertile soil of the Brahmaputra River Valley.

A fisherman in River Brahmaputra
A fisherman in River Brahmaputra
Source: scroll.in

During the monsoon season, from June to October, floods are a very common occurrence here in Assam. The river Brahmaputra takes on a frightening look as thousands lose their homes, crops are destroyed, animals are stranded.

Luitor bolia baan

Toi koloi nu dhapoli meliso ?

Hir hir xobde kaal rup dhori nu

Kaak nu bare bare khediso ?

Luitor buku henu baam hoi gol

Gobhirota henu kisu nuhua hol

Baan toi heyehe oliya boliya hoi

Duyu pare uposi poriso.

~ Dr. Bhupen Hazarika

The poet addresses the river as Luit and asks the reason behind the madness. What’s the reason for its fury and whom does it plan to destroy ? The poet is understanding of the fact that the river body has gone shallow which results in increased water level. The comparison here appears to be to a young lad whose heart is heavy because of the emptiness within. This emptiness leads him to wander aimlessly indifferent to the feelings and emotions of others. But life has to go on just like the river which flows overcoming all obstacles to meet the ocean one day.

A boat carrying passengers across the river Brahmaputra
A boat carrying passengers across the river Brahmaputra
Source: nenow.in

Deforestation over the years have led to increased siltation level, flash flood and soil erosion in critical downstream habitat. The effects of flooding therefore are devastating every year which still remains unsolved. The very benefactor river which gave in abundance also has to power to take back everything in heaps and bounds. This is the power of the river Brahmaputra!

The Brahmaputra has also been a source of inspiration for many during the freedom movement in Assam. Just as the river withstands the fury of time the Assamese youth vowed to overcome the enemy with courage and were willing to sacrifice their lives for the land too.

Luitor parore

Ami deka lora

Moriboloi bhoi nai.

~ Jyotiprasad Agarwalla
Sunset on river Brahmaputra
Sunset on river Brahmaputra
Source: travelspeak.in

Luitore paani jaabi o boi

Luitore paani jaabi o boi

Xandhiya luitor paani hunuwali

Sohore nogore jaabi o boi

Joyore kiriti deshe bideshe

Sagore nogore phuribi koi

~ Jyotiprasad Agarwalla

The Brahmaputra has many tales to tell- tales of co-existence, tales of migration, tales of fearless patriotic youth, tales of happy people with simple livelihood, tales of destruction in the face of flood and tales of reconstruction. The people of this land feel one with its mighty river irrespective of its unpredictable nature. The poet Jyotiprasad Agarwalla wishes that as the Brahmaputra flows across borders, it narrates the great stories of this land called Assam for centuries to remember. The mighty Brahmaputra is, in fact, the perfect embodiment of the pilgrimage called life.

Rongali Bihu: The Assamese New Year

Rongali Bihu: The Advent, the previous post, I have mentioned that Bihu is the thread that holds the people of Assam together, irrespective of community, ethnicity, language or religion. Rongali Bihu is the Assamese New Year but people of Assam come together as a state to celebrate this colourful festival.

Togor phool blooms in Bohaag
Source: lowes.com

Rongali is symbolic of youth. Nature bears new leaves during this season, the dullness of winter gives way to new life and Rongali is the celebration of this fresh breath of life. The youth therefore finds a gust of new life and this is the topic of many Bihu geet or songs. The mesmerising sound of the Dhol, pepa and baahi leaves everyone spellbound as young girls dances gracefully to the beats completely oblivious of the surroundings.

Eibeli bihuti romoke jomoke

Nahor phul phulibor botor

Nahor phulor gundhe pai

Nasonir tot e nai

Gosokot bhangi jai jotor

Bihu geet or songs

Bihu geet are the songs sung during Bihu which follow a certain tone, melody and lyrics. They are a very important part of the Assamese culture and the dominant themes being nature, love, friendship and youth. Most bihu songs are a playful expression of love by either a young boy or a girl. Bohaag adds colour to the lives of young boys and girls and love confessions and courtships are an integral part of Rongali Bihu.

Bihua playing the pepa
Source: thehindu.com

In one such song the lover tries to woo his beloved by gifting her the kopou phool. The beloved, on the other hand, secretly goes to meet her lover giving some other excuse to her mother.

Pahar bogai bogai senimai kopou phool ani dim

O senimai khupate

Khupate guji dim buli

Maarok phaki di senimai bihu loi ahili

O senimai sereki

Sereki anugoi buli

Love is a sweet emotion and has been metaphorically compared to ‘sira doi’ the traditional Assamese jolpaan. Love is like the river which flows incessantly :

Piriti piriti piriti

Piriti mitha sira doi

Piriti piriti piriti

Piriti buwa buwoti noi

Piriti piriti piriti

Ure jibon thakibo boi

These are some very popular Bihu songs on love. The river imagery has been beautifully portrayed to emphasise that love is never-ending but forever growing.

Husori / Jeng Bihu

Husori or courtyard bihu is a form of dance performance done during Bihu by visiting every household. Young boys get together led by an elderly and sing bihu songs followed by bihu dance. When young girls perform in a troupe in the same manner it is called jeng bihu. A husori or a jeng bihu troupe visiting your house during Bihu is considered auspicious. They usher in good luck and prosperity by singing:

Jaya Rama bula

Jaya Hari bula

Grihosthor kusholarthe

Bula jai Hari bula

Bihu husori troupe
Source: topyaps.com

When a husori troupe visits you are suppose to welcome them with a gamucha leading the way to your courtyard. At the end of the husori performance a xoraai is offered to them which usually contains tamul-paan, a gamucha and a certain amount of money. Sometimes jolpaan and pithas are also offered along with tea.

Manuh Bihu

Manuh Bihu is the first day of Bohaag, the Assamese New Year. People have a ceremonial bath with maah-halodhi ( black gram and turmeric paste) and put on new clothes. Prayers are offered by lighting the chaki ( earthen lamps) in the household prayer place. The young ones of the family then seek blessings from the elders and offer the traditional gamuchas woven specially for this occasion. All family members sit together to enjoy the elaborate traditional breakfast of doi-jolpaan and pitha amidst chit-chat and laughter.

Bihu jolpaan and pitha
Source: indraniskitchenflavours.com

It is also a tradition to visit family, relatives and friends on the occasion of bihu. The reason being to spend quality time together over a family meal.

Bihu celebration on stage

In the earlier days, during the Ahom rule Bihu was celebrated with much gaiety and performances were organised for the royals. Swargadeo, the king and the other royals clad in their traditional attire sat majestically to enjoy these performances which took place in the Ranghar premises of Sivasagar.

Swargadeo ulale batsorar mukholoi

Duliya e patile dola

Kanot jilikile nora jangfai

Gaat e gumsengor sula

Ranghar bakori Bihu celebration
Source : outlookindia.com

Even today a day long celebration is organised in the premises of historic Ranghar on the occasion of Rongali Bihu keeping in view the grandeur of the tradition.

Other than Ranghar bakori bihu, Bihu stages are organised every year in every nook and corner of the State where the community come together to take part in the celebration. Husori, jeng- bihu, bihu dance, bihu song, and a variety of other cultural competitions are organised. On the first day of Bohaag , mukoli bihu is organised in Latasil field of Guwahati every year. Both Ranghar bakori bihu and Latasil field bihu are very popular and people from around the State witness it with great enthusiasm.

Mukoli Bihu is like an open stage for performances without any makeshift stage. In the earlier days, unlike the makeshift stage now, bihu either meant mukoli or gos tolor bihu.

Rongali Bihu is the main festival of Assam which falls in the Assamese month of Bohaag, hence also called Bohaag Bihu. Bihu ushers in the spring season as we hear the melodious voice of the Cuckoo, the fragrance of nahar, togor and kopou phool. Rongali thus is the celebration of new life.

Rongali Bihu: The Advent

Bohaag mathu eti ritu nohoi

Nohoi Bohaag eti maah

Axomiya jaatir e ayukh rekha

Gonojiyonor e xakh

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika

Bohaag Bihu, the Assamese New Year is the most important festival of Assam. It would be unfair to call it merely a festival because Bihu, in reality, is the thread which binds the people here irrespective of any community, religion or language. Dr. Bhupen Hazarika was a poet of the people and his songs reflect the Assamese life in its core. In this song he clearly expresses the emotions that we as Assamese hold in our heart for Bihu. Bohaag is not a season or a month for us, it is our lifeline, the inspiration for our social life.

Kopou phool ( Foxtail Orchid)
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Bohaag is the melodious singing of the Cuckoo ushering in a season of greenery. Bohaag is the raw smell of the tilled land as we get ready for another season of cultivation. Bohaag is the mesmerising sound of the pepa and Dhol which echoes in every nook and corner. Bohaag is the fragrance of the kopou and togor that adorns the hair of a young Bihu dancer. Bohaag is the aroma that fills every kitchen preparing the tasty pithas. Bohaag is the sound of the loom getting busy weaving gamucha (bihuan) .

In Assam the preparations for Bohaag Bihu starts many days ahead of the actual festival. Women gets busy weaving gamucha and mekhela sador in their looms. Gifting gamuchas to the elderly during Bihu has been a tradition here and when it’s woven rather than bought the value increases.

Gamucha in the handloom
Source: thenortheastwindow.com

Gamucha is also used to cover the altar at the prayer hall and the scriptures too. Usually every Bohaag Bihu this is replaced by a new one when family members offer prayers in their prayer halls. Gamucha is the pride of the Assamese people.

Another very important activity is preparation of the pithas or rice cakes and jolpaan. Nowadays everything is readily available in the market but many prepare these at home. Women in the villages use to get together and prepare the chira, hurum, akhoi, hando jolpaan first by grinding in the dheki and then roasting in the fire. Variety of pithas are prepared a few days ahead which includes til pitha, ghila pitha, anguli pitha, tekeli pitha etc. Every kitchen turns into a mini factory before and during the Bihu.

A very popular bihu song by Krishnamoni Nath aptly relates this activity. In this song he teases his beloved to treat him to jolpaan when he comes to her home for husori.

Dheki de dheki de o mure lahori

Dhekire sabote kopai tul suburi

Handoh pithaguri, aru tho sira bhaji

Husori gabo ahim jotonai dibi

Krishnamoni Nath
Bihu pitha and jolpaan
Source: indraniskitchenflavours.com

The entire month of Bohaag is celebrated as Bihu but there are certain traditions which are followed during the two days – goru Bihu and manuh Bihu. Manuh Bihu is the first day of the Assamese New Year and Goru Bihu is the last day of the previous year.

Goru Bihu

On Goru Bihu, the cows are worshipped because Assam being an agrarian State cows in particular and cattles in general are of utmost importance. The cows are gathered early morning and led to a pond or river where they are given a ceremonial bath with turmeric and black gram paste, and vegetables are offered to eat. They are whipped with Makhiloti and Dighloti leaves to keep insects and mosquitoes away. In the evening they are tied with new harnesses, dighloti leaves are burnt along with rice bran to ward off evil in the form of sickness and salted pithas are fed. While bathing the cows the farmers sing a song thereby invoking the divine blessings to bestow good health to their cows.

Dighloti dighol paat

Maakhi maru jaat jaat

Lau kha bengena kha

Bosore bosore barhi ja

Mar xoru baper horu

Toi hobi Bor goru

The goru Bihu special traditions
Source: Runjun Konwar Gogoi

Koni juj is another popular tradition where family members engage in a friendly match of eggs. One person holds an egg in his palm and another hits it with his, the person whose egg breaks first loses. This is in totality a fun tradition. The broken eggs are later cooked with either amlori tup (weaver ants) or scrambled to be eaten along with poita bhaat ( leftover rice). After a hearty exotic meal most people visit the Naamghar and engage in naam praxanga thereby offering prayers in thanksgiving as well as to welcome the new year.

In the evening 101 variety of vegetables are cooked which is believed to keep away illness. 101 haak as we call it, not necessarily includes 101 variety but as many as can be collected. This includes some with very good medicinal values for which the prevalent belief among people. This mixed vegetables delicacy tastes so good inspite of being a weird mixture of sour, bitter, sweet and a lot of other flavours.

The festivities of Bohaag Bihu continue throughout the month although the main traditions are performed during the first two days. There are a lot of related rituals, activities and traditions which will leave you mesmerised. In this post I have included the preparations leading to Bihu and goru Bihu tradition. A lot more other details and manuh Bihu traditions will be included in the next post.

Assamese traditional silk

The Silk Tales – Assam Traditional Silk

Assam silk is the pride of every Assamese and we flaunt it in style and grace too. Assam produces three indigenous wild silk namely Muga, Paat and Eri.

Muga is the product of the silkworm Antheraea assamensis endemic to Assam. The larvae of these moths feed on som and sualu leaves, and the result is a fine textured, glossy and durable golden coloured silk.

Paat is a brilliant white or off-white silk produced by Bombyx textor silkworms which feed on mulberry leaves.

Eri is made by Samia cynthia recini which feed on leaves of castor oil plant. This silk is soft and warm and popular as shawls and quilts.

Assamese girls flaunting colourful paat mekhela sador saree
Assamese beauties flaunting colourful paat mekhela sador
Image source

Assam Silk famous Origin place

Sualkuchi, situated 35 kms from Guwahati city on the north bank of river Brahmaputra, is the textile hub of Assam. Initially what started with a few handloom cottage industries has today grown into a commercial hub producing quality silk products.

The Assam silk industry has been able to generate employment to the locals and make them self-dependent. Sualkuchi attracts a lot of tourists from across the world every year because of this silk industry. Several travel agencies in Guwahati offer day tours with guides to Sualkuchi.

What is Assamese Mekhela Sador?

The traditional Assamese mekhela sador is a three piece attire which includes the lower skirt called mekhela, the blouse and the sador which is wrapped around the waist and bosom. Normally the ladies wear cotton mekhela sadors at home, and muga, paat or eri are occasional wears only.

Although silk was cultivated and woven by most women all around Assam, the silk of Sualkuchi was given royal patronage during the Ahom rule in Assam. Since then Sualkuchi was made an important centre of silk weaving encompassing cotton, silk and khadi textiles.

Assamese bride flaunting the ceremonial white paat mekhela chador
Assamese bride flaunting the ceremonial white paat mekhela sador on her marriage ceremony
Image source

Paat Silk

The wedding trousseu of every Assamese bride religiously includes at least one muga silk mekhela sador and one white paat silk. Paat can be dyed too and therefore a variety of colours with latest motifs are available.

White paat is generally worn by a bride during the marriage ceremony as white is the symbol of purity. Whether Choklong or Xom or any other marriage form, white is considered auspicious for the marriage ceremony.

The particular set in the image above is called the main set in a wedding trousseu and comes along with a reeha , which is like a sador but smaller in breadth.

The reeha is also worn during the marriage ceremony and is particularly very symbolic. This reeha is the identity of a married woman in Assam and is worn on all religious occasions.

Assamese bihu dancers wearing muga mekhela and muga reeha
Bihu dancers wearing Muga Mekhela and Muga Reeha
Image source

Muga silk

Muga mekhela sador is widely worn during Bohaag Bihu or Rongali Bihu, apart from other occasions. In fact, Muga is synonymous with Bohaag Bihu. Bohaag is the Assamese New Year and is celebrated with much enthusiasm throughout the state.

Husori and Bihu dance are performed by the youngsters and elders alike from household to household ushering in prosperity.

The Bihu dancers wear muga mekhela sador and adorn themselves with traditional jewellery, kopou phool on their hair buns and jetuka on their palms.

Eri Silk

Eri is also a very revered silk in Assam. The name Eri is derived from the Assamese word “era” which means “castor”, as the silkworm feeds on “castor plants”.

Eri shawls are widely used for gifting. If you are in Assam and you receive an eri product it’s to show respect because for us guests are like God.

“Atithi devo bhava”.

Eri nowadays can be dyed too and many colour variants in stoles, shawls and mekhela sador are available in the market.

Eri is also known as endi or errandi in India. The texture of this fabric is coarse, fine and dense. Due to its thermal properties it is warm in winter and cool in summer.

Eri silk is also called ahimsa silk because the cocoon is harvested to be spun only after the moth leaves the cocoon. So literally no silkworm is killed during the process.

Assamese lady wearing red Paat Mekhela Sador
Assamese lady flaunting red Paat Mekhela Sador
Image source

The increasing global appeal of Assamese traditional dress

Assamese traditional mekhela sador tends to be quite expensive, be it muga, paat or eri. In the recent years the traditional motifs and designs have seen a lot of changes with a whole new bunch of designers coming into the scene.

The new designers cater to the taste of the global market and have successfully promoted the Assamese traditional mekhela sador in both national and international fashion stage.

Thanks to their invaluable efforts the mekhela sador is appreciated worldwide today. The youngsters today are also catching up with our traditional attire flaunting it in their own way and thereby attracting the appreciation of millions.

Magh Bihu – Harvest Festival of Assam

Buffalo fight on the occasion of Magh Bihu
Source: asianage.com

Magh Bihu is known as the harvest festival of Assam. It is celebrated in the month of Magha marking the end of the harvest season in Assam. It falls around mid- January and is a time of abundance which we celebrate with lot of festivities and feasting. Hence this Bihu is also called Bhogali Bihu derived from the word Bhog meaning eating and enjoying.

My reminiscence of Bhogali Bihu goes back to the days when we spent the Bihu eve beside the fire till midnight guarding our kitchen garden which my father nurtured with great care. My father used to grow vegetables in the little piece of land he had which mainly included potato and black gram ( mati mah ). Apart from these he also planted cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, bottle gourd, baby tomato, parsley, etc. in very small quantities. So it was naturally our duty to protect it from the local youngsters during the Uruka night which is the Bihu eve.

For those who might be wondering why we need to guard our kitchen garden on Bihu eve. Well, in Assam it’s like a tradition during Uruka night of Bhogali Bihu to steal from the neighbourhood gardens and farms. The more logical explanation of this tradition is that in villages the cowherd used to spend the entire Uruka night guarding the harvest in the granary and also the Meji built for the early morning of the Bihu. January in Assam is cold and to keep themselves warm the cowherd used to steal wood and bamboo from their neighbour’s field to light a fire. They also stole vegetables to satisfy their hunger throughout the night. This is more like a fun tradition and was an open secret for both parties involved. There were no fights later on for the theft done.

A simple bhelaghor. Source: reddit.com

These festivities and traditions were not restricted to the villages only but also celebrated with much enthusiasm in the towns and cities of Assam as well. I grew up in the small town of Dibrugarh and just like the cowherd guarding their granary in the villages, we guarded our small kitchen gardens.

Bhogali Bihu starts on the Uruka night when a community feast is organised in villages and towns alike to celebrate the end of the harvest season. People get together and contribute to arrange for the grand feast, the highlight being the new harvest of rice and of course our very own Xajpani in some cases, the impotance of which I have described in detail if you follow the link given. Men, women and children all help with preparation for the feast. We sing, dance and enjoy to our heart’s content rejoicing at the good harvest we are bestowed with God’s grace. Bhogali means feasting and merriment and we live up to its name.

A Bhelaghor is a makeshift hut made with the haystack of the harvest fields for the Uruka. It is here that the cowherd spend their night and eat their feast. In the earlier days this hut was made in as simple a way as possible. But with time the artistic minds of people have taken the art of making bhelaghor to the next level.

Modern day Bhelaghor
Source: hindustantimes.com

A Meji is a massive bonfire made of wood, bamboo and haystack for the morning of the main Bihu day. We get up early in the morning, take our bath and offer our prayers by lighting this Meji. We also offer pitha or rice cakes, betel nut to the sacred fire in thanksgivings. Some also offer Mah-karai, a special mixture of roasted rice and black gram to the fire which is considered auspicious too. This mixture is later also eaten by the people along with other delicacies like a variety of pitha, jolpaan etc. The makeshift bhelaghor is also burnt down along with the meji.

Our society Meji in Guwahati

The Bhogali festivities continue for a few days with family and friends visiting each other. A variety of pitha or rice cakes are made by the ladies to treat their guests. A traditional way to treat guests is to serve xurum, xando or sira Jolpaan with curd and gud ( jaggery). Pithas included til pitha, tel pitha, steamed pitha, til ladu, coconut ladu etc. served with xajpani. Sometimes the ladies get together as a community and prepare them on the Uruka night.

Assamese jolpaan and pitha served during Bihu. Source: nenow.in

Buffalo fight is another important aspect of the Magh Bihu festival. Such fights are still organised in some parts of the State and people in large numbers gather to witness these iconic fights. However, with the risk involved there has been a gradual decrease in such fights. This one time I was travelling to my hometown for Magh Bihu I happened to witness a buffalo fight somewhere in Nagaon, Assam. The dust in the air, the massive crowd hinted at the majesticity of the event.

Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu is considered the second most important festival in Assam after the Rongali Bihu or Bohaag Bihu. In a state where agriculture is the main source of livelihood, where a majority of the population rely on farming the Bhogali Bihu holds a very special place in our hearts. The sweat and tears of the farmers bear fruit and this calls for nothing but celebration.

Choklong – The Ahom Wedding Rituals & Dress

Marriages are made in heaven but solemnized on Earth

This is a popular saying on the institution of marriage and sounds cliche. But trust me, the customs, ceremonies, and rituals involved in a marriage are so varied, yet grand and beautiful that the institution itself cannot be cliche. An Assamese marriage ceremony is different for every ethnic community in Assam and each has its own intricate ritualistic affair.

Choklong is the unique marriage ceremony of the Tai-Ahom community of Assam. Choklong is the marriage ceremony performed in the divine presence of the Gods by lighting 101 earthen lamps.

The Maral with 101 earthen lamps distinctive of a Choklong marriage ceremony.
The Maral with 101 earthen lamps distinctive of a Choklong marriage ceremony.

In the ancient days, the Choklong marriage ceremony was a nine-day long ritualistic affair. But nowadays it has been reduced to three days namely Juron diya, Murot tel diya, and the main day Choklong ceremony. The Ahom priestly classes, i.e., Deodhai, Mohan and Bailung perform all the religious ceremonies of the community which included the marriage ceremonies as well. They had full knowledge of the Choklong system of marriage and therefore full authority too.

The most important aspect of a Choklong marriage is the lighting of the 101 earthen lamps. On the day of the marriage an altar is prepared which is called the Maral. It is basically an extensive rangoli decorated with 101 earthen lamps. In the rangoli pattern, 16 small earthen lamps are arranged in 6 concentric circles, and 4 medium earthen lamps are placed in the innermost circle. In the centre a large earthen lamp is placed. Another important part of the Choklong marriage is the Hengdang which is a single-edged sword with a long handle. The Hengdang is offered by the bride to the bridegroom which has a lot of symbolism. By accepting the Hengdang the groom is basically promising to protect his bride lifelong and look after the family. In the ancient days, the groom accepting the Hengdang meant that he would defend his country against enemies and thereby protect the nation.

Hengdang the sword of Ahoms
The Hengdang
Source – ancientpages.com

The Wedding Dress

The wedding apparel of the bride and groom in a Choklong marriage is so royal and elegant that it adds to the grandeur of the ceremony. The groom wears a kurta and dhoti with a turban on his head. A traditional cheleng sador is wrapped around the groom’s kurta. All these are made of our very own Muga silk, sometimes paat silk also. The bride wears a mekhela, reeha, full sleeved shirt like blouse, and a muga headgear. With time, however, the traditional mekhela sador is widely worn by the bride with the headgear.

Learn more about Assamese wedding dress in The Silk Tales – Assam Traditional Silk.

Every girl, at some point in her life, fantasises about her marriage even if for a second. She wants to look the best on her wedding day and fantasises her wedding dress, the jewelry, the sets, customs and rituals as well. I was no exception to this. In fact, from the day I learned about the royal Ahom Choklong marriage ceremony, I was very sure I am going to have one. My favorite part of the ceremony was the offering of the Hengdang to the groom by the bride. For me, it seemed larger than life event with the groom dressed in traditional Muga kurta and dhoti along with a muga turban. I was mesmerised by the thought of the groom promising to protect the bride from all evil with the Hengdang in his hands.

Ahom bride and groom in their wedding apparel of muga silk
Ahom bride and groom in their wedding apparel
Source: https://instagram.com/frozenframeproduction?igshid=sj5401s2q2on

The Wedding Rituals

An Assamese marriage these days is traditional with its unique customs and rituals, but also with a touch of modernity as far as the attire, extensive sets and glamour are concerned. It is an amalgamation of both. Ceremonies and rituals start many days ahead of the actual wedding day. In my previous post on Xajpani I had mentioned about Na purushor hokaam. This is the first ritual in any Assamese marriage which takes a few days prior to the marriage. The name, however, may vary according to different communities.

The ceremony starts with the Juron diya. The family of the groom brings gifts for the bride which includes her wedding trousseau, along with gold and traditional Assamese jewelry, cosmetics, ceremonial maah halodhi to be applied by the bride on her wedding day. There are many other things brought along with these. These are brought in two earthen pots, one with gifts for the bride,another with maah halodhi. The bride takes out a portion of the maah halodhi and leaves some for the groom in the same pot which is later carried back to the groom. Juron is given by the groom’s mother and other female relatives and basically is an all-female ceremony. The bride later changes her attire to the ones gifted by the groom’s family and seeks blessings from the elderly people present in the ceremony.

There’s another ritual called koina or dora nuuwa meaning bathing the bride and groom in a ceremonial way. This is arranged in the respective places of the bride and groom. The maah halodhi kept aside during the Juron ceremony is applied on the body of the bride and groom, and later washed with water. For this a bei is made with bamboo where the bride and groom are made to sit for the ritual. Under this bei is buried one egg, a needle, kasi, beetle nut and a coin. This ritual signifies cleansing the bride and groom of any impurities or evil spirits thereby preparing them for their new life. The water used during this ritual is brought from a nearby river or lake in another very ritualistic manner. The mother along with the ladies of the family and community goes to a nearby water body singing biya naam. This ritual is called pani tola.

Murot tel diya is solemnized on the next day after juron. Biya naam are traditional wedding songs sung during this ritual, and in fact throughout all the ceremonies related to marriage. The bride is applied tel now by her relatives and other female guests. The female guests gathered then asks for xoraai from all the family and relatives by singing biya naam. The xoraai basically consists of tamul-paan, gamucha, money, sweets etc. given to the ladies which is an expression of happiness and thanksgiving. This is more like a fun ceremony.

An Assamese Choklong marriage is an elaborate affair, a larger than life affair as all other Assamese marriages are. One cannot but be awe- inspired to witness such a marriage. It is all about customs and rituals. But with modernisation there has been some positive changes too which, however, have not affected the rituals. Videographers, photographers, make-up artists, dress designers, jewellery designers are involved nowadays to make a marriage more memorable. In Assam we have a talented bunch of such artists who gave given a whole new look to our traditional marriage ceremonies and taken it to another level. So if you ever get an invite to attend a Choklong marriage or any other Assamese marriage, do not miss the opportunity. You would be more than happy to be a part of an Assamese marriage.