Rongali Bihu: The seven pinnacle phases of the festival
Rongali Bihu, also known as Bohag Bihu or Xaat Bihu is the chief festival celebrated in Assam and northeastern states of India and it marks the Assamese New Year. Signifying the time of harvest, this Bihu is usually celebrated in the second week of April, seven days after Vishuva Sankranti of the month of Vaisakh or locally Bohag.
Rongali Bihu, the festival of merriment and feasting, is celebrated for seven days by gorging on traditional Assamese food and preparing the fields for cultivation of paddy. It is also a fertility festival, where people, especially women, dance with their signature steps on Bihu geets(songs).
The seven days or pinnacle phases of the festival are: Goru, Manuh, Raati, Chot, Kutum, Mela and Chera.
Goru Bihu is celebrated on the last day of Chaitramonth. On this day, the cattle of the village are brought to a water source and are bathed and cleaned using turmeric and gram paste. Often, the cattle are offered vegetables and Bor Pitha(a delicacy made from rice and jaggery) as a gesture to thank them for providing the farmers a good harvest. The day ends with the burning of rice bran.
On the occasion of Manuh Bihu, people have a traditional bath using turmeric, clean their households and wear traditional clothes. They also seek blessings from the elders and gift them a Bihuwanor the Gamochacloth as a symbol of respect. Many families write Sanskrit mantras on Nahar leaves and hide it behind the roof. This ritual bears a symbolic significance and is done with the intention of seeking protection from all negative elements of nature. Manuh Bihu is also known as Bor Domahiin parts of lower Assam.
This phase commences on the first night of Chaitraand lasts till the commencement of Uruka. Celebrations involve the gathering of local women of the local women in an open field illuminated by lighting up torches. Men folk participate to play Pepa, an instrument made from buffalo hornpipe, and Bholuka Baahor Toka, a musical instrument made of split bamboo.
Chot Bihu is also known as Bali Husori and it begins on the second day of Chaitra. This day is celebrated by organising dance and song events by the young at outdoor locations, fields or a Naamghor Bakori (yard of community prayer hall) till the occurrence of Uruka, the formal beginning of Rongali Bihu.
The second date of Visakhis Kutum Bihu (Kutum symbolizes family). On this day, people visit houses of their relatives and friends to greet and bond over a meal.
The third day of Bihu is marked by the celebration of Bihu with cultural events and competitions in outdoor locales (Melasymbolises Fair). In the ancient days, the King and his staff used to come out to such fairs or Bihutolisto mingle in the Bihu celebrations. This tradition of events is continued till date with Bihu Melas or Bihu functions. The fairs are attended by people from all over Assam and are aimed at fostering an atmosphere of the communal brotherhood and the inclusion of everyone.
Also called as Bohagi Bidai, Chera is the last day if Rongali Bihu. It is celebrated differently in different regions but the common theme is to wrap the festival with future resolutions. On this day, people exchange pithasamong their family and friends.