Assam is a northeastern state of India which is known for its fertile land and vast expanses of tea gardens.
Cultivation is the main vocation of the natives of Assam and therefore, their New Year celebration coincides with the beginning of the harvest season.
Like the many celebrations of India, Assamese New Year is also observed with great fervor.
Although the people of Assam are known for their simple lifestyle, New Year is celebrated with great pomp and show. The celebration is called Bohag Bihu, named after the first month of the Assamese calendar and is the biggest non-religious festival of the state.
Apart from Bohag Bihu, the other major Bihu festivals of the state are:
- Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu in January
- Kati Bihu or Kongali Bihu celebrated during October and November
As per the Gregorian calendar, Bohag Bihu is observed during the month of April and is celebrated with great enthusiasm and abundance. The etymology of the word Bihu relates it to the Dimasa Kachari language which was spoken by the native Dimasa Kachari tribe of the region. They used to offer the first crop of the harvest to their worshipping God, Brai Shibrai as a tradition. In the language ‘bi’ means to ask and ‘shu’ means peace. In a word, they asked for peace and prosperity from their supreme God.
Bohag Bihu is now the most important festival for the people of Assam and normally many traditions and rituals are observed during this time. The day is considered very auspicious and Assamese people will clean and decorate their houses for the celebration. They will buy new ropes for their cattle and collect vegetables to be eaten on that day.
Since Assamese people still depend heavily on the traditional method of cultivation, cattle, especially cows, play a very crucial role in the celebration. Cows are used in the fields and they also signify the wealth of the owner and so, on this day, they are cleaned and worshiped and offered special fodder made of aubergine and gourd.
People will take a special bath on the day and wear new clothes. Then the special prayer offered at the Namghar or the prayer hall inaugurates the celebration of the New Year. The celebration may last for more than a day and each of the days has its special meaning and rituals. The prayer is called ‘Bihu Husori’. On the second day of the Bihu celebration, special dishes of flattened rice, curd and jaggery are prepared in Assamese households and enjoyed with friends and relatives. Offering prayers to deities is also an integral part of Bihu celebration.
During the celebration, the people of Assam restrict themselves to wear only the traditional outfit which is ‘Mekhla’ for the women and an assortment of vest, dhoti and ‘gamocha’ for the men. Special performances of Bihu dance are presented by expert dancers. In many parts of the state, fairs and Bihu dancing competitions are organized.
Although the New Year celebration traditionally lasts for three days, festivity continues for over a month. Educational institutes and many offices remain closed during this period.