Bohaag mathu eti ritu nohoi
Nohoi Bohaag eti maah
Axomiya jaatir e ayukh rekha
Gonojiyonor e xakhDr. 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 Assamese life at 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.
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 young Bihu dancers. Bohaag is the aroma that fills every kitchen preparing tasty pithas. Bohaag is the sound of the loom getting busy weaving gamusa (bihuan) .
In Assam the preparations for Bohaag Bihu starts many days ahead of the actual festival. Women get busy weaving gamusa and mekhela sador in their looms. Gifting gamusa to the elderly during Bihu has been a tradition here and when it’s woven rather than bought the value increases.
Gamusa is also used to cover the altar at the prayer hall and the scriptures too. Usually every Bohaag Bihu the gamusa is replaced by a new one when family members offer prayers in their prayer halls. Gamusa is the pride of the Assamese people.
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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 used 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
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.
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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 in the 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
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 other 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 varieties of vegetables are cooked which is believed to keep illness away. 101 haak as we call it, does not necessarily include 101 varieties 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.