Transitions in Bhogali Bihu Celebrations

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Transitions in Bhogali Bihu Celebrations

Nehal Jain | January 13, 2018 11:14 hrs

Mid January marks the end of the season of harvest. Many agriculture related festivals are celebrated during this period all across India, like Pongal and Makar Sankranti. Magh Bihu, also known as Bhogali Bihu, is one of the most important harvest festivals celebrated in the North Eastern state of Assam. It is celebrated in similar fashion as Makar Sankranti and Pongal – with women cooking various delicacies, men playing traditional games and participating in competitions.

Bhogali Bihu is the last of the Bihus and marks the time when all the hard work of farmers comes to fruition. Farmers work hard all through the year to grow the crops. It is during the month of January that farmers sell their harvest. The granaries filled with harvest bring immense joy to farmers. Apart from its cultural significance, Bhogali Bihu also has a lot of economic significance as farmers get money by selling their harvest. Due to the advent of globalization and the increase in the share of other sectors of the economy like manufacturing and services, harvest festivals like Bhogali Bihu are losing their significance. But it still remains one of the most important festivals celebrated by the people of Assam.

The word 'Bhog' in Assamese means food. From the word Bhog the name of the festival Bhogali Bihu was derived. It involves feasting and enjoyment – the main highlight of the festival.

Traditionally, Bhogali Bihu celebration was confined to homes and its inclination was more on the agricultural side than the religious. On the occasion of this festival, people started their day early. They cleaned their homes wholly and wore new clothes for the festival. They threw their useless articles into fire, known as Bhogi Mantalu, which was made up of cow-dung cakes and woods. The reason behind the celebration of Bhogi festival is to please Lord Indra, i.e., the God of Clouds and Rains. With the help of Lord Indra’s blessings, abundance of harvest can be possible which brings prosperity to the land.

Women of the family used to gather together to cook a sumptuous feast, including laru and peetha for the entire family to eat together. All members of the family used to bond over feasting as freshly harvested rice paved their way in to the kitchen. For some people, this is a time to stay with their family and for some this is a reunion. People spend the day with their near and dear ones. Another major attraction of this festival is the Buffalo fights.

As years go by, all festivals undergo changes. So has the festival of Bhogali Bihu.

Right before the festival, Melas are held where stalls sell varieties of food items. Most families have started buying laru, peetha, etc from these Melas instead of preparing them at home. It feels like an easy task to some people. But in the process, the traditional idea of preparing the feast and bonding over it is vanishing. This is especially the case in towns. The positive side to this change in tradition is that it saves time for the working class, as they are able to spend more time with the family.

Another significant change that has occurred is the addition of loud music, dance and booze to the celebration. This has blurred the distinction between the three different Bihu. While Bhogali Bihu used to be all about the ‘Bhog’, that is, feast; it has now turned into a grand celebration including dancing and boozing.

There has occurred a major shift from a family oriented celebration to a community based/ societal celebration. The festival is no more confined to the four walls of a house, it has encompassed beyond. Stage shows, songs, dance, melas have thus become an integral part of the celebration of Bhogali Bihu.

The prices of items essential to Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu celebrations such as pitha, laru, curd, cream, jaggery, chira (flattened rice) and other food items have also been spiraling over the years.

Pre-Bihu fairs gaining massive popularity

At pre-Bihu fairs that started in Guwahati on Tuesday, December 9, it has been observed that the prices of each item have gone up compared to previous years.

A packet of pithas containing 10 pieces cost around Rs 70-100, which were being sold for around Rs 40-70 in 2017. Similarly, cream from Sorbhog is being sold for Rs 500 per kg as opposed to previous years' cost of Rs 350-400 per kg and the prices of curd, palm jaggery, bora rice, etc have also increased significantly.

One of the major highlights of this year’s pre-Bihu mela being organized at Lakhiram Baruah Sadan is women preparing rice powder in traditional dheki and making pithas in front of customers.

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