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.

Maha Shivratri and Shivdol of Heritage Sivasagar

Shivdol
Source: templepurohit.com

Shivdol is a group of structures on the banks of the Sivasagar tank, also known as Borpukhuri, in Sivasagar, Assam. It comprises of three different temples namely Shivdol meaning temple of Lord Shiva, Vishnudol meaning temple of Lord Vishnu and Devidol meaning temple of Goddess Durga. Lord Shiva along with Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma form the holy trinity (trimurti) of Hinduism. Lord Shiva is responsible for the destruction of the Universe, with the goal of recreating it.

Located in the heart of the city of Sivasagar the Shivdol is a popular destination for pilgrims. Tourists and pilgrims come from around the country to offer prayers to Lord Shiva. The temple stands tall at 104 feet high and is said to be the tallest Shiva temple in North East India. Situated at the topmost part of the temple is a golden dome called Kolosi which is seven feet tall.

Mahashivratri meaning the great night of Shiva is the most important festival celebrated here on the new moon day in the month of Magha according to the Hindu calendar. The origin of this festival is not very clear and there are different versions. Some believe it to be the marriage consummation of Lord Shiva with Goddess Parvati. According to another belief Shivratri is celebrated as the day when Lord Shiva saved the world from the pot of poison that emerged from the ocean during Samudra Manthan. Devotees visit the temples and offer milk, fruits, flowers, fresh leaves and sweets to the shrine. Ardent devotees also remain awake throughout the night and engage in chanting prayers, or meditating. Some also keep fast to please Lord Shiva and receive his blessings.

Sadhus on the occasion of Mahashivratri at Shivdol
Source : Swarnav Borgohain

A special prasad made on the occasion of Mahashivratri is the bhang laddo or bhang lassi which is an edible preparation of cannabis. This is basically a cannabis infused sweet or drink and is the highlight of the festival. Bhang is said to be Lord Shiva’s favourite food. After having spent one night sleeping under this plant’s leaves, he ate it in the morning and feels refreshed. It is widely believed that since then Bhang became his favourite food.

Shivratri in Sivasagar is said to have been celebrated since the construction of the Shivdol by Queen Ambika, second wife of Swargadeo Siva Singha in 1731. Every year during Mahashivratri a huge mela or fair is organised over a few days and pilgrims and tourists alike visit from far and wide to offer their prayers as well as take part in the celebrations. This coming year Mahashivratri falls on February 21st, 2020 and as usual festivities and fairs are expected to be arranged for the occasion. The brightly illuminated temple standing on the banks of the Borpukhuri ( Sivasagar tank) is the most pleasant sight to see at night, with people bustling around the fair surrounding the temple walls on all sides.

Night view of Shivdol with the Sivasagar lake
Source: flickr.com

Sivasagar is a place of rich cultural heritage and great historic importance in Assam as it was the capital of the Ahom kingdom who ruled Assam for glorious six hundred years. It was earlier known as Rangpur and got its current name after its then ruler Swargadeo Shiva Singha. Sivasagar is home to some the most amazing historical monuments in Assam built during the Ahom rule. These include Ranghar, Talatal ghar, Kareng ghar which in a way boasts of the glorious Ahom reign.

In my earlier post on Talatal ghar, I have mentioned in details how to get to Sivasagar and other related information. There is a lot to visit and explore in this historic place called Sivasagar when it comes to history, architecture and culture which would definitely leave you enriched.