The Essence of Bhogali or Magh Bihu
Bhogali Bihu or Magh Bihu is just around the corner and Assam is gearing up for the most awaited feasting time of the year. While there are three variants of Bihus that are celebrated or observed at different times of the year, Bhogali Bihu, the festival of harvest, is celebrated in January. This agrarian festival, as the name itself suggests, is all about celebrating a bumper crop through feasting.
The eve of the festival is called Uruka. On this day, men build small cottages (Bhelaghar) with hay and prepare the Uruka feast there. The rest of the family members gather around a bonfire to play games and dance to folk music. Next morning, they wake up and light the Meji (normally a towering structure made of inflammable hay, twigs etc) and offer prays to the God of fire.
People make several types of food items with grains, called Pithas. The different types of Pithas are Til (sesame) Pitha, Narikol (coconut) Pitha, Tekeli Pitha, Ghila Pitha, Sunga Pitha, Kholasapori Pitha, Lau (gourd) Pitha and Kolpat Pitha. Other items eaten during the festival are Sandoh Guri, Bora Saul – varieties of locally produced grains. The Laru (a round sweetmeat prepared from a variety of items like coconut, til, etc is another Bh-ogali Bihu delicacy.
Sandoh Guri is made with rice flour. It is eaten with milk or curd and is sweetened with jaggery or sugar. Other delicacies are Maah Korai and Jolpan. Maah Korai is prepared with black sesame seeds, Bora Saul, gram or Maah, Chana fried and is flavoured with some mustard oil, ginger and salt.
Another interesting delicacy of the festival is Bora Saul or sticky rice. It is grown in Majuli - the world’s largest river island located amidst the ever-shifting sandbanks of the river Brahmaputra in Assam. The rice is soaked overnight in hot water and consumed the next day. Locals prefer eating it with curd/cream and jaggery. They also eat it with mustard oil and Aloo Pitika (mashed potato).
The rice has low content of amylose, a starch component that contributes to the hardness of food grains and is easily digestible. It does not have a distinctive flavour so it gets dominated by other flavours which are added to the rice.
Since the rice has unique qualities, scientists at the Cuttack-based Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI) has successfully grown a similar grain called Agonibora in Odisha to see if the rice can be grown outside Assam.
The festival of harvest is celebrated throughout the country. In the South, it is called Pongal while the rest of India calls it Makar Sankranti. Down south, people worship Lord Indra. Their celebration is similar to that of Assam’s. Makar Sankranti marks the arrival of spring season in India and is celebrated in various different ways throughout the country.
Guwahati kick starts Bihu celebrations, continues CAA protests
A Guwahati based NGO, Bor Axom organised a Pitha festival in the city where fresh Pithas were being made by women of the NGO and served hot to the visitors. The event was not just about the Pithas. Another highlight of the programme was the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) badges that every woman wore as they prepared the eatables.
Binita Dutta Chaudhary, member of Bor Axom, told G Plus, “This is our festival and we have to celebrate it but at the same time we cannot forget about CAA. We strongly oppose it since it is a threat to our language.”
"Although we are celebrating Magh Bihu and doing business, we also wanted to show our opposition to the CAA,” said a vendor. "By placing the placards we want to keep the fight alive and also people will remember what we went through," he added.
Mutton price fixed for Magh Bihu in city, fish prices expected to soar
Rural Assam continues to celebrate Magh Bihu in the authentic rural style way but the cities have lately seen a lot of transition. Earlier, every household would prepare pithas on their own but now with most of the people belonging to the working class, these items are bought in Melas or stalls.
Instead of traditional folk music, people in the cities prefer loud Bollywood or Hollywood music and also add alcohol to the celebration. It is no more celebrated just within the four walls of a house. Cultural programmes and gatherings are organised.
Food prices increase during the season. Mutton prices have gone up in Assam. The president of Greater Guwahati Qureshi Meat Association, Muslim Ali, told G Plus that they have fixed the price of mutton for Magh Bihu at Rs 650 per kilogram.
“We have allowed the price of mutton to be fixed at Rs 650 per kilogram for the occasion of Magh Bihu. But this will only be followed for a single day on January 14,” said Ali.
However, various unlicensed meat sellers in the city have increased the price by as much as Rs 100 per kilogram during the festival period.
“Charging exorbitant prices during this period is unfair to the customers and we have thus fixed the price at Rs 650 and we are also asking the other sellers to adhere to it,” added Ali. Apart from this, the prices of fish and chicken are also likely to rise for Magh Bihu.